PORTAGE | Corey McFry was spending Sunday afternoon with his friends, swimming and playing in Lake Michigan's waters off the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk site of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
He then either stepped off a sandbar or was swept from it by 3- to 5-foot waves.
As search crews combed the area Monday where McFry went missing, his family kept vigil at the pavilion at the park.
"This is not something you want to deal with. It is not the phone call you want to get," said Mark McGregor, McFry's mother's fiance.
McGregor, visibly shaken, spoke with the media Monday morning about the 15-year-old boy who would have begun his freshman year at Portage High School later this summer.
"He was unique. There's no other words you can use to describe him," McGregor said, adding the boy liked video games, skateboarding, girls and drawing.
McGregor described McFry as an "all right swimmer" but said that didn't matter with the conditions Sunday of Lake Michigan.
"Lake Michigan is a rough lake. With the currents and everything changing, it's hard," he said.
Gene Davis, conservation officer with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, said McFry went missing in waters 4 to 11 feet deep. He'd been swimming with four friends when he slipped from the sandbar about 150 feet off the shore. Two stayed and searched for him and the third swam to shore seeking help.
Crews from numerous departments searched in the rough water Sunday night and resumed the search Monday morning when the lake was calmer. Portage Fire Department and DNR boats, equipped with side-scan sonar, trolled back and forth in a grid pattern during the recovery operation. Divers from various departments were readying to get into the water.
Ken Mehne, law enforcement specialist with the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, said he expected the operation to continue Tuesday with the boats searching for McFry, but he didn't believe divers would be on the scene.
Davis said Monday night the search had ended for the day and would resume about 7 a.m. Tuesday with surface units, rather than dive teams, covering the area.
Jenny Orsburn, superintendent of Portage Parks, said the lakefront site likely would reopen to the public Tuesday.
McFry's apparent drowning is the second this summer along Lake Michigan's Indiana shore. Davis said warm air and water temperatures this summer luring more people to the lake and strong northerly winds causing increased waves and rip currents have created a "recipe for drowning."
"Every year we're here doing a story on rip currents," Davis said, adding it seems young people in their teens and 20s "get out there and never think it is going to happen to them. This lake doesn't care who you are, where you are."