By John Carpenter
When friends passed Darihanne Torres in the halls at Jordan Elementary School, she always made them smile.
This was just one of many memories offered Monday evening at a lakeside memorial for Torres, 13, who drowned in Lake Michigan Friday.
Known to her friends and family simply as Ari, she was remembered as a happy girl who loved riding her bike with friends, often to the beach, and taking funny selfies with Snapchat filters.
“She was always really happy with life,” said Emily Munoz, 13, a friend and classmate. “She always made people laugh.”
“She was a good friend,” said Sofia Martinez. “She gave good advice, and she was always good at making a plan.”
Many, including Munoz, Martinez and their friends, made poster tributes to Torres. Others brought candles. And hundreds of balloons, many with loving messages to Torres and her family scribbled on them, were released into the sky after a brief prayer service.
Thanks to a gentle wind out of the west, they floated into the clear sky over the spot where Torres body was recovered late Friday.
Also at the service was Chicago Police Officer Steve Ommundson, who was among the first on the scene Friday. Ommundson responded to a call of swimmers in trouble in the choppy waters off Loyola Beach. It was about 7:30 p.m., after lifeguards had gone home for the night. Ommundson, himself a former Chicago life guard, immediately stripped to his underwear and dove in the water, swimming about 100 yards to a girl who was floating motionless in the water.
“She was barely conscious,” Ommundson said. “She wasn’t really aware of what was happening.”
He said he never saw Torres.
“Her body was already under the water,” he said. “I wish I would have been able to get them both.”
After pulling her to shore, Ommundson headed back to the water as emergency workers helped the girl, a friend of Torres’ who survived. Ommundsun helped two other adults who were having trouble. But he never saw Torres. Her body was recovered about three hours later, a short way down the beach, Ommundson said.
About 200 people attended Monday’s service, which was led by Rev. Joseph Tito, a Catholic priest at St. Nicholas parish in Evanston. The Torres family attended St. Jerome’s in Rogers Park, where a funeral will be held Saturday. But Tito said many St. Nicholas families come from the same town in Mexico as the Torres family. Tito said Monday’s memorial was the idea of Torres’ friends.
“The young people wanted to gather together to keep the prayers alive as we approach the funeral,” he said, addressing the crowd in both Spanish and English.
Most Chicago television stations covered the event. And Munoz also addressed the crowd, her face barely rising above the array of microphones set up to record the service.
“It’s sad to see an angel die,” she said of her friend. “But we know she’ll be watching us. She never stayed sad.”
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the family defray costs of the funeral. You can find it here.