RACINE — Amari Donell Griffin-Brewer was known as a kind, caring young man.
Tragically, Griffin-Brewer, 16, drowned in Lake Michigan Sunday — an event that is unfortunately all too familiar to the Racine community this summer.
In a news release, Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling called the death a “tragic swimming accident.”
A former Park High School student, Brewer-Griffin moved to Ohio with his father after his freshman year. This May, he moved back to Racine to finish school in his hometown, though he was unsure at which high school he wanted to finish, according to his best friend and ex-girlfriend, Savannah Hoaglund.
After high school, Brewer-Griffin planned to study psychology in college, Hoaglund said.
“His goal in life was to help people,” said Hoaglund, a REAL School student. “He would say, ‘I want to be remembered for helping people and helping them to get better.’”
Brewer-Griffin’s desire to lend a hand came from knowing several people with mental health issues, Hoaglund said. Brewer-Griffin saw himself becoming a psychiatrist or therapist after college to help as many people through their issues as possible.
“He helped me work through some of the hardest times,” Hoaglund said. “If he was busy, he would push everything aside to talk. He was so focused on making people happy.”
The two met by coincidence: they had some mutual friends on Facebook and started messaging each other last July, while Brewer-Griffin was still in Ohio. They became a couple this March and finally met face-to-face when Brewer-Griffin moved back to Racine.
Even though Hoaglund and Brewer-Griffin only dated for a few months, they remained as close as ever after they split.
“He was my best friend from the day I met him until now — even after we broke up,” Hoaglund said. “His heart was one of the biggest hearts ever.”
The Racine Fire Department Dive Team responded to a possible drowning at 5:36 p.m. Sunday and located Brewer-Griffin under the surface of the water by 6:12 p.m.
Clair Holland, who lives near the beach where it happened, saw the rescuers bring Brewer-Griffin to the ambulance.
“It was terrible what happened,” Holland said. “A large crowd gathered. It was just across the street, at the end of Wolff Street, where they brought the boy up the steep path. Very sad to lose a child.”
Schmaling said the investigation revealed Brewer-Griffin was swimming with two other teenage friends, a boy and a girl. Brewer-Griffin went under the water and did not resurface.
Racine County Medical Examiner Mike Payne said the water conditions probably did not contribute to the death.
“The water was flat and calm, so it wasn’t due the (surface motion of the water) or anything like that,” Payne said. “Apparently he could swim. He may have just taken on a gulp of water, and that’s how drownings occur.”
Brewer-Griffin’s death was the third water tragedy in Racine in July. Daryle Neal Jr., 14, drowned in the Root River on July 4. Neal was wading with friends at Washington Park Golf Course off 12th Street, and didn’t know how to swim, according to his family.
Also on July 4, a near-drowning of a 7-year-old boy was reported after the child fell from a rock at Pershing Park into Lake Michigan. He is said to remain in critical condition at Children’s Hospital in Wauwatosa.
“These deaths are terrible tragedies for the families and the community in general,” said M.T. Boyle, the county executive’s chief of staff. “Our hearts are with these families at this time.”