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Watch now: ‘Hero’ who died after saving two children from Lake Michigan identified

RACINE — A 40-year-old man died Sunday after saving two children who were “in distress” in the water near the pier north of North Beach and Zoo Beach, Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling said early Sunday evening.

Thomas Walker


The man has been identified as Thomas J. Walker of Missouri.

Schmaling called Walker “a hero.” In a news release, the Sheriff’s Office stated its members are “keeping Thomas in our thoughts and prayers as we marvel at his brave and selfless actions.”

What happened

Walker entered the water to save the children, who were related to him, Schmaling said in an interview; the children got out of the water thanks to Walker, but he was unable to get out.

Emergency responders — including lifeguards and emergency personnel from the South Shore Fire Department, City of Racine Fire Department, the Racine County Dive Team of the Racine County Sheriff’s Office — were called to the scene at around 3 p.m. Walker was found in the water at about 4 p.m.

He was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

A statement from Walker’s family said: “He was a kind soul and an amazing uncle to his niece and nephews. And how we lost him is a testament to how great an uncle and all-around guy he was. (We) never met a person who didn’t like him. He is missed greatly.”

A deadly summer

There were three drowning deaths on the Racine lakefront in June: A 10-year-old girl, a 17-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl.

The Great Lakes Surf Rescue, which tracks deaths in the Great Lakes, reported 56 drownings in 2021 in all of the Great Lakes combined as of Aug. 11; Walker’s death, if ruled a drowning, would be at least the 57th to date. As of Aug. 11, there had been 24 drownings this year in Lake Michigan, the deadliest of the five lakes.


Swimming near the pier is considered especially dangerous, particularly on days with conditions such as those found this weekend. Life-threatening waves of up to 7 feet were expected this weekend along Lake Michigan throughout southeast Wisconsin, according to the National Weather Service.

The area of the water from which the man was unable to escape is not protected by City Racine lifeguards. The last day for city lifeguards at North Beach is Saturday, Aug. 28.

Man dies after saving two children from water off North Beach

More than 100 people enjoyed Racine's beaches Sunday evening, hours after a man was pulled from the water after he saved two of his young relatives who were "in distress" in Lake Michigan near a rocky pier. The man did not survive. 

As of 6:15 p.m. Sunday, more than 100 people were still at the beach: playing in the big waves, catching some rays and building sandcastles.

In a statement issued Monday evening, Schmaling said that his office “encourage(s) people to take the time to investigate current lake conditions before entering Lake Michigan and take all necessary precautions. This, like the other unfortunate drownings this summer, are tragic, incredibly sad, and preventable.”

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