COUNCIL BLUFFS — As Memorial Day turned tragic, rescuers undertook the grim task Monday of searching for a missing teen at Lake Manawa, and parishioners from his family’s church prayed under nearby trees.
“We are praying for a miracle,” said Maria Ramirez of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Omaha.
But there would be no miracle.
At 3:18 p.m., emergency workers pulled the 16-year-old boy’s body from the lake.
The teen, who was not wearing a life vest, had been missing for a little more than two hours after rolling off his inner tube into the lake.
Council Bluffs Assistant Fire Chief Derrick Williams said witnesses saw the boy disappear beneath the water shortly before 1 p.m.
The boy had gone to Lake Manawa State Park with two siblings.
Three lifeguards were staffing the lake and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources had a boat patrolling the lake at the time, Williams said. Emergency dispatchers were called at 1:10 p.m., he said, and additional boats and a drone were sent to assist in the search.
Williams said the boy’s body was found near the shore in the swimming area in water that was 3 to 5 feet deep. Rescuers used sonar to locate the teen, and the Omaha dive team assisted in retrieving the body.
He said the teen had last been seen on the inner tube near the ropes that mark the end of the swimming area. He said it wasn’t clear whether the boy had been inside the swimming area or between the rope and the buoys that restrict boating.
Williams said he did not know if the boy could swim. The teen was Hispanic, and a language barrier impeded some conversation with those at the scene, he said.
As news of the tragedy spread, members of St. Joseph Catholic Church began arriving at Lake Manawa to pray.
One woman said they were there to support a fellow parishioner whose son was missing. At one point, she said, the group was told that there still was a chance the boy would survive, and they clung to this shred of hope as they prayed.
Police had closed the road to the beach where the boy drowned, so about 12 people from the heavily Latino parish stood under two young trees, removed their hats and raised their hands to the sky, praying loudly and passionately in Spanish for the boy and his family. A couple of them knelt in the dirt and grass.
Ramirez said group members had been calling and texting as many people as possible to join them. People continued to arrive as the vigil went on, even after emergency vehicles and many responders had been gone for some time.
An earlier version of this article listed the boy's age incorrectly.