SAUGUS – A 16-year-old sophomore at Lynn Vocational Technical Institute drowned yesterday after she went swimming with friends in a Saugus lake that was not staffed by lifeguards, authorities said.
Shanequa McKennzie, who was studying to become a nurse, had visited John A.W. Pearce Lake in the Breakheart Reservation many times before, a friend said, and was apparently looking to cool off as temperatures rose into the mid-90s.
McKennzie and several friends cut school yesterday and plunged into the water at about 12:30 p.m. when the teenager disappeared under the surface about 15 feet from shore, said Captain Don Shea of the Saugus Fire Department.
McKennzie’s friends began searching frantically for her, and several sunbathers and a park ranger also dove in to look for her, Shea said.
But the searchers kicked up silt that made the water murky, and by the time McKennzie was discovered and brought to shore, she was not responsive, Shea said.
A nurse who was at the lake with her family performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and firefighters continued efforts to revive McKennzie.
Emergency workers brought the girl to Melrose-Wakefield Hospital, where she was pronounced dead about 2:50 p.m.
“It’s a really, really close-knit family, and it’s a close-knit school, so this is going to go right through the community,” said James L. Ridley, principal of Lynn Tech. “It’s a devastating loss.”
Stephen O’Connell, spokesman for Essex District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett, said it was not clear whether McKennzie knew how to swim, because authorities received conflicting reports from her friends.
Town Manager Andrew Bisignani said that lifeguards staff the lake on weekends in June and that signs are posted stating that swimmers do so at their own risk.
After July 1, lifeguards staff the lake seven days a week, said Bisignani.
“One thing that I think is strange is that there are no lifeguards around,” said Wilson Caraballo, 57, who was leaving the beach with his son and three grandchildren yesterday evening. “And for the kids going into the water, it’s not safe. . . . If there was a lifeguard in there, that accident might not have happened.”
A friend of McKennzie’s, Jamely Mendz, 16, also a sophomore at Lynn Tech, said McKennzie often visited the reservation. “She’s a very friendly person,” Mendz said.
Neighbors in Lynn were in mourning.
“She was a nice girl, very respectful,” said Ivelice Ruiz, 36. “She’s not a troublemaker. She was a beautiful girl.”
Several men outside the McKennzies’ house in Lynn last night said the family had no comment.
Pearce Lake is managed by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation.
Saugus officials said the lake is safe, as long as swimmers stay within an area marked with flotation devices.
“It’s like any place that has swimming,” Bisignani said. “People who don’t take precautions and are careless might get into trouble.”