The parents of a Vermont man who fell into the Inner Harbor and died this month came to Baltimore on Wednesday to implore city officials to install protective rails and more lights around the water’s edge.
Ryan Schroeder, 26, was visiting Baltimore for a business conference when he fell into the frigid waters near the Barnes & Noble bookstore during the early morning hours Feb. 1. Two passersby called 911, but he struggled in the water for roughly 40 minutes before rescue workers pulled him out and rushed him to Shock Trauma. He was pronounced dead at the hospital that morning.
Jim and Anne Schroeder of Duxbury, Mass., visited the spot where their son fell on Wednesday. There are no rails there, and the closest ladder or life ring is near the National Aquarium, across the water.
The Schroeders don’t think those safety features could be seen in the dark anyway.
They placed signs with their son’s picture at the spot imploring the city to build “rails for Ryan,” and met with representatives of the mayor.
“We’re here to advocate for some railings or guard rails around the harbor to make people aware of how dangerous it is,” Jim Schroeder said. “He fell into a trap that no human could have gotten out of without help.”
They are not the first parents to make such a plea after suffering a loss. In 2014, David Thomas, whose 29-year-old son Evan Curbeam was found in the harbor near Fells Point, slammed the city for not doing more to stop people from falling in. Thomas also called for railings and increased lighting.
Similar demands span decades. After a 13-year-old girl in a wheelchair rolled into the water and drowned in 1982, advocates for people with disabilities proposed a series of safety measures, including lifeguards. Two years later, a blind man nearly drowned after misjudging his location and tumbling into the cold waters.
Local crime researcher Ellen Worthing says more than 50 bodies have been found in the Inner Harbor since 2000. They have included homeless people and tourists. Alcohol played a role in several of the deaths, police say, as it likely did with Ryan Schroeder.
“It’s very unsafe,” Worthing said. “There should be better safety features along the promenade for people who misstep and fall into the water.”
Laurie Schwartz, president of the Waterfront Partnership, agrees. Her organization has sent the city a report outlining recommendations.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Catherine Pugh confirmed that aides met with the Schroeders on Wednesday.
“Our hearts go out to the them during this difficult time,” spokeswoman Amanda Smith said in a statement to The Baltimore Sun. “We take this matter very seriously, and an investigation of the incident is currently in progress.”
The Schroeders described Ryan, the oldest of their three children, as an avid skier, traveler and board-game player who always ended phone calls with “I love you.” A graduate of of St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vt., he settled in nearby Essex and worked in sales with Vermont Information Processing, a technology firm that serves the beverage industry.
Police say Schroeder was returning to his hotel at 4 a.m. Feb. 1 after a night out at a downtown bar and restaurant when he fell into the Inner Harbor.
He was pronounced dead just after 6 a.m. His father called it a “senseless waste of a beautiful person.”
Jim Schroeder looked out into the murky Inner Harbor on Wednesday. He said he felt overcome with a desire to jump in. He wanted to understand for himself what his son had felt.
Schroeder watched young children on a school field trip run around the harbor and shook his head. When he saw a life ring across the water, he teared up.
“If only that was over here,” he said. “We were so close to just getting a call that said, ‘Dad, I’m in the hospital, but I’m OK.’”
The Schroeders said they’d be willing to pay for safety features at the harbor. They have set up a GoFundMe page to start a scholarship fund in his honor. They said their family is forever “fractured.”
Ryan Schroeder’s funeral was held in Duxbury on Saturday. His family had planned to go on a ski trip that day to celebrate his 26th birthday.
On Wednesday, his parents visited the police department to retrieve his belongings. Among the items recovered from their son’s wallet was a to-do list, with reminders to set up his 401K, clean up his car and create a budget for himself and his future plans.
“There are going to be people who are going to tell us that Ryan lived in his 26 years more than a lot of people live in a lifetime,” Anne Schroeder said. “While we know that’s true, it doesn’t help how we feel. We know he touched so many people in his short life. But we just so want him back.”
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Baltimore Sun researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.