Editorial: Why did it take so long for help to arrive as boy drowned off Navy Pier for 30 minutes?

Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/TNS

Even in a city where murders are commonplace, some crimes still have the capacity to shock us to the core. What happened at Navy Pier on Sept. 19 falls into that category.

On that day, prosecutors allege, Victoria Moreno, 34, of Des Plaines, deliberately used both of her hands to push her little nephew, Josiah Brown, 3, into Lake Michigan near the northeast end of the popular tourist attraction. As the child drowned in the water, Moreno allegedly just stood and watched.

It’s an unconscionable set of circumstances and it is not surprising that it made international news as a further example of Chicago’s endemic brutality.

No destination that attracts millions of visitors a year can be held accountable for the acts of every last one of them, especially if the perpetrator goes to some effort to escape immediate detection. And we do not yet fully know what was going on inside Moreno’s head.

“Not once during any of these events did the defendant scream for help, call for help, ask for help or try herself to help,” Assistant State’s Attorney Lorraine Scaduto alleged at Moreno’s bond hearing.

Still, the length of time that child spent unaided in the water before rescuers arrived, reportedly as long as 30 minutes, should alarm every Chicagoan.

And it must not happen again at Navy Pier.

When Josiah finally was pulled from the water, the child was still alive. He died Sunday at Lurie Children’s Hospital. Scaduto said at the hearing that the child first floated on his back before vomiting and eventually sinking to the bottom of the lake.

Why did it take so long for potentially lifesaving help to arrive?

According to news reports, it took time for people to realize what had just happened, for somebody to call the authorities and for the emergency services to arrive in the right place. These kinds of delays before help arrives for someone in life-threatening circumstances hardly are unknown elsewhere in the city, but in this instance they may have had a material impact on the child’s fate.

Surveillance cameras on the pier apparently caught the alleged crime, aiding prosecutors. But they did not help get immediate aid for Josiah.

Cruise ships recently have been focused on the problem of people going overboard, usually as a result of either being drunk or having mental health issues. Cruise ship companies are beginning to install sophisticated detection equipment to mitigate the issue.

Such equipment, which is costly, typically uses motion-detection sensors and infrared and radar technology to immediately send a signal directly to the bridge when a person goes over the rails of a ship. These systems can also track a person in the water, even after dark.

A pier is not a ship, of course, and people leave the pier to board boats all the time, adding to the complexity of the issue.

But there are other improvements worth discussing, including stationing more rescue personnel at the pier, adding to the amount of safety equipment for the public to quickly grab, closer monitoring of existing cameras and safer railings, especially on the north side of the pier, where crowds are fewer and it is easier for events such as this horrific crime to evade detection.

Simply put, when someone hits the water off Navy Pier, authorities should have the information to take immediate action.

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