Anne and Jim Schroeder called for more safety measures around Baltimore's Inner Harbor after their son, Ryan, died after falling into the frigid waters in February. On Thursday, the city announced that they had begun installing more ladders and emergency life ring stations.
Anne and Jim Schroeder called for more safety measures around Baltimore's Inner Harbor after their son, Ryan, died after falling into the frigid waters in February. On Thursday, the city announced that they had begun installing more ladders and emergency life ring stations. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore committed Thursday to spending roughly $125,000 to install safety equipment around the Inner Harbor following pleas from the parents of a 26-year-old man who died earlier this year after falling into the frigid waters.

The same day as the city’s announcement, police removed a woman’s body from the murky harbor.

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Authorities offered no information about about the woman’s identity or the circumstances of her death. But discussions about the need for new safety features have been in the works for months.

The parents of Ryan Schroeder visited the city after his death in February and implored officials to increase the number of safety features around the waterfront. Schroeder, of Vermont, was visiting Baltimore for a business conference when he stumbled into the Inner Harbor near the Barnes & Noble bookstore in the early morning hours of Feb 1. Although two passersby eventually called 911, Schroeder struggled in the water for about 40 minutes before rescue workers pulled him out.

There were no guardrails in the area where Schroeder fell, and the nearest ladder or life ring was across the water, by the National Aquarium. If those elements had been in place on the day of his son’s fall, Jim Schroeder said, “it would’ve given us a totally alternate life.”

Parents of man who died after falling into Baltimore's Inner Harbor want railings, other safety measures added

Some of the elements of the Schroeders’ trip to Baltimore are practical: They had to pick up their son’s belongings from the police station. But they’re also hoping to accomplish something more meaningful while they’re in the city where their oldest son died.

The city is adding 16 ladders and 35 emergency life ring stations, specifically in areas near bars and with high foot traffic. Some are near the spot where Schroeder fell. About 60 percent of the new safety measures had been installed as of Thursday, according to a department spokesman.

Jim Schroeder and his wife, Anne, also called for the city to build guardrails, placing “rails for Ryan” signs around the waterfront. The city’s answer to the Schroeders’ request for guardrails was not immediately clear, but they do not appear to be part of the initial plan.

“The installation of additional life rings and safety ladders is another step that DOT has taken to help ensure visitor safety along the harbor promenade,” Michelle Pourciau, the city’s Department of Transportation director, said in a statement. “The safety of all citizens that visit Baltimore’s harbor is a top priority, and we are working to minimize risks.”

The Schroeder family donated $10,000 from the Ryan P. Schroeder Scholarship Fund to the Baltimore City Foundation to help pay for the safety improvements.

“Though time can’t possibly erase our heartbreak,” his mother wrote in an email, “we will find some solace in knowing that at last, hopefully, this tragedy will not be repeated.”

Laurie Schwartz, president of the Waterfront Partnership, said the city’s original concept for the Inner Harbor, designed more than 40 years ago, does not call for railings.

“There was a lot of research done at other waterfront communities to look at how the water’s edge should be planned for and built,” she said. “They found that when there were rails, very often people, and especially children, would lean on the rails and fall in unintentionally.

Body found in Baltimore's Inner Harbor waters on Thursday afternoon; no sign of foul play, police say

The body was found in the water in front of the M & S Grill, next to the USS Constellation.

“It was determined that actually the way it is built is the safer way — to have it open and to have a marker at the edge.”

Schwartz said she was pleased with the city’s quick action to install additional safety equipment.

“We’re hopeful that when people do inadvertently fall into the water, they’ll now have a much easier time getting out,” she said.

City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said the life rings and ladders are “a good beginning,” and represent something the city has long needed. She’s open to conversations about protective rails and where they should be placed.

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“There’s always two sides to the story, and it’s worth the conversation,” she said. “But for right now, bravo, we got something we’ve been asking for, for decades. It’s the first line of protection.”

Councilman Zeke Cohen echoed Clarke’s sentiment. He said he wants the city to take “a hard look” at adding railings, but that he wants to look at the transportation department’s full plan before judging.

“We absolutely have to take the safety concerns of folks like the Schroeders seriously,” he said.

The Department of Transportation has hired a city contractor to conduct a monthly safety inspection, according to an email sent to the Schroeders from the mayor’s office and provided to The Baltimore Sun.

The Schroeder family is the latest in a line of people who, spurred by personal tragedy, have lobbied the city to increase safety measures around Baltimore’s harbor.

Some Baltimore City Council members want to examine Inner Harbor safety after man's death

Members of the Baltimore City Council called for a fresh look at safety measures along the waterfront after a man fell into the harbor and died.

David Thomas’ 29-year-old son, Evan Curbeam, was found in the harbor near Fells Point. Thomas slammed the city in 2014 for not taking actions that would prevent people from falling in.

The problem has existed for decades. In 1982, a 13-year-old girl in a wheelchair rolled into the water and drowned. A blind man nearly died two years later after tumbling into the cold waters.

More than 50 bodies have been found in the Inner Harbor since 2000, according to local crime researcher Ellen Worthing. Among them were homeless people, tourists and those who live on houseboats. Police have said alcohol was a factor in several cases.

The Schroeders say nothing the city does now can fix their “fractured” family. Ryan Schroeder, the oldest of their three children, was a graduate of St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vt. He loved skiing, traveling and board games. His parents said he always ended phone calls by saying, “I love you.”

Jim Schroeder said his family is “not OK” six months after losing their vibrant and adventurous son.

The rings and ladders could “help a lot of people,” he said. “It doesn’t help us, you know, but it’s of course a good thing. We don’t want anyone else to experience this.”

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