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Uptown, Edgewater, Rogers Park

Drowning Victim’s Mother Calls For Life Rings, Safety Measures At Chicago Beaches

Rogers Park residents have tried to take measures into their own hands, adding life rings to a local pier — but the Park District removed them.

Community members and activists attend a vigil and prayer in honor of Miguel Cisneros. The vigil was Tuesday night in Rogers Park.
Hillary Flores/Block Club Chicago
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ROGERS PARK — Maria Diaz was supposed to drive her son to his dream school — Columbia University in New York, where he had a full ride — last week.

Instead, the grieving mother is calling on Chicago officials to install safety equipment at the city’s beaches. Her son, Miguel Cisneros, 19, drowned Aug. 22 after jumping off Pratt Pier for a swim. It happened before lifeguards were on duty; bystanders said Cisneros was close enough to be thrown a life ring — but there wasn’t one at the pier.

Credit: Provided/Noreen Heron
Miguel Cisneros (center) with his two brothers during the holidays.

“I love the lakefront. Now, it freaks me out,” Diaz said at a news conference Tuesday night. “This is the first time after the accident, and I just cannot get near the beach. This is the closest I’ll probably be and the last time I’m at the lakefront until I see life rings.”

Diaz spoke near Tobey Prinz Beach Park, where her son died. She talked about her loss — and called on the Park District to add life-saving measures, like life rings, to Chicago beaches to prevent more tragedies.

Neighbors recently attempted to take matters into their own hands: After Cisneros’ death, residents installed life rings and caution signs at the end of the pier. But the Park District removed the signs and life rings. 

Park District spokespeople previously said the district removed the neighbors’ life rings because they were not authorized, but they are looking at adding safety equipment at beaches. Last week, the Park District added “Danger, No Swimming or Diving” signs to the base of the pier and the lighthouse.

Park District spokespeople could not immediately be reached Tuesday.

Rogers Park residents have advocated for more water safety measures for years, said Ald. Maria Hadden (49th).

“As someone who has lived in Rogers Park for many years now and represents the residents here in the 49th Ward, I can tell you that from Miguel’s death, what we can work for and what we can make of this is a change,” Hadden said. “A change to bring more safety to our waterfront, a change of policy for the Chicago Park District, more awareness for the residents of our community, not just the lakefront communities, but all of the residents of Chicago.”

Credit: Hillary Flores/Block Club Chicago
Maria Diaz, mother of Miguel Cisneros, speaks during Tuesday’s press conference.

More than 1,000 people have died in the Great Lakes since 2010, said Dave Benjamin, executive director of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.

“Doing nothing by not putting up life rings cost Miguel his life and it cost the lives of many others,” Benjamin said. “Let’s not forget Miguel, and let’s not forget all the others who have drowned in the Great Lakes. Chicago Park District needs to install life rings on its lakefront.”

Diaz said she’s heard the Park District is not installing life rings at Chicago beaches is because it wants to avoid “encouraging people to swim where there should be no swimming.” 

“With this logic, the fire alarms in schools would encourage students to set fire to the schools or people who wear seatbelts would be encouraged to get into accidents and drive recklessly,” she said. “I am not giving up on my boy. We will be here until change is made.”

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