Fire officials: Boy drowns in McKinley Park pool

Christopher Bowen (Family photo)

The day after 14-year-old Christopher Bowen died at a Chicago Park District pool, friends and family on Saturday were trying to piece together what went wrong when the boy dove into the deep end of the pool.

"We just want to know what happened and why," the teen’s aunt, Sherry Hedge, 45, said Saturday.

Authorities say Christopher was pronounced dead at 2:40 p.m. Friday after he was pulled out of the McKinley Park pool, 2210 W. Pershing Road. Results of an autopsy Saturday were pending further investigation, according to the Cook County medical examiner's office.

Described as a strong swimmer from a family of former Chicago Park District lifeguards, Bowen regularly made the trip less than a mile from his family's Brighton Park home to McKinley pool.

From witness accounts, Hedge said she believes her nephew dove into the pool near the deepest point -- at 9 feet -- and somehow hit his head. A friend who was at the pool Friday said Bowen dove in the deep end and didn't come up after a minute.

The friend, Eduardo Gonzalez, 17, said he dove down wearing goggles and poked Christopher, who did not respond.

"I pushed him up," Gonzalez said Friday. "He was getting purple in his face."

Another swimmer, Damen Root, said he saw Gonzalez attempting to help the boy.

"It was very apparent the boy was in trouble," said Root, 36, a fellow Brighton Park resident. Seeing a pinkish fluid streaming from Christopher’s nose, Root said he started pushing the boy toward the pool's edge while yelling for help from the lifeguard seated 10 feet away.

Root said he never heard that lifeguard blow a whistle to alert the other eight or so guards on duty or enter the pool to offer assistance. Root and two others pulled Bowen out of the pool, he said. The closest lifeguard yelled for someone to call 911, he said, while the other guards cleared the pool.

Neither Root or Gonzalez said they saw a lifeguard perform CPR.

Chicago Park District officials issued a statement Friday calling the death "a tragedy" and saying they are investigating the incident.

Hedge said she spent 10 years as a park district lifeguard, including a stint at McKinley pool, and questioned the lifeguards' actions Friday.

"I don't know if they are young kids and they froze in the situation, seeing such a traumatic event, or if they were in shock," she said.

Christopher's death comes at a time when the family is still reeling from the loss of his mother, who family said died suddenly in September. Her death was particularly hard on Christopher as family members said he was the one who discovered her body. But his spirits had improved in recent weeks, said his grandmother, Nancy Hedge, 76.

"He was thrilled about going back to school," she said.

Nancy Hedge, too, asked for some explanation for her grandson's death.

"I definitely want a lot of answers," she said. "I don't want it to happen to another child over there."

Tribune reporters Ellen Jean Hirst and Carlos Sadovi contributed to this report.

jbullington@tribune.com   | Twitter: @jbtribune