HOBART | Family and friends gathered Sunday outside the home of two young brothers who drowned in water that had collected on a property being excavated several blocks away.
Donel Smith, 9, and Terrion Smith, 8, of Gary, died Saturday night after going into water that had filled a pit on a property in the 4000 block of Missouri Street, according to the Lake County coroner's office.
The neighborhood is just west of Interstate 65 and south of Ridge Road.
The boys' mother, Tatiana Smith, held photos of her family as she sat on the hood of a car parked in front of her home in the 3900 block of Louisiana Street in Gary.
She had not wanted her children to go outside but decided to allow it after some other children in the neighborhood came by asking her kids to go out, she said.
She told Donel, her oldest, and Terrion to return home in 30 minutes to check in, she said. One of their younger sisters came back within that time frame and told her the boys went in the water and didn't come out, she said.
Both boys were taken by ambulance to St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart, where they were pronounced dead from drowning just after 8 p.m., the coroner's office said.
"They were loving kids," Smith said. "They loved to do everything — play, laugh, talk."
Both boys loved playing all sports, she said. Terrion especially liked soccer and had told her he wanted to play that sport in high school, she said.
Smith said her boys jumped in the water at the urging of other kids playing on the property. When Terrion went under, Donel jumped in to save him, she said.
The boys' uncle, who is 10, was with them and almost went in the water after them, she said. A family friend held him back, she said.
Smith said she's a guardian for the 10-year-old because her mother died in 2010 from leukemia.
"There was six in total," she said. "Now I have four left."
Daniyela Hashem lives on Missouri Street, just east of the property being excavated. The property used to have some sand dunes on it, but the owner has been excavating the parcel since April 2013, she said.
Hashem said she noticed some kids playing in the water on the property when she looked out her back window Saturday night and told her husband they needed to keep an eye on them.
About five minutes later, a child rang her back doorbell and shouted, "Call 911, call 911. They're drowning!"
Hashem's husband, Dean, ran out and went in the water looking for the boys. He soon started shouting, "It's too deep, it's too deep. I can't touch the bottom," and had to get out, she said.
Her husband later told her the water is shallow at first but there is a steep drop off, she said.
Police arrived within five minutes, she said. Officers exited their cars, shed their belts and ran in the water, she said.
Hashem said she felt badly for the boys' family and had trouble sleeping Saturday night.
"It just kept playing in my head, you know, whether we could have done more," she said.
On Sunday, no-trespassing signs were posted at the start of a gravel driveway on Missouri Street leading to the property. A cable hung across the driveway blocking access to the property, but a fence around the perimeter was not visible.
Smith said some no-trespassing signs at the property were posted Sunday morning, after her sons drowned.
Hashem said signs next to her property had been posted before Saturday's tragedy.
"But the kids come from the sides and back, and they don't really see them," she said.
Hobart officials did not return calls Sunday seeking comment.