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A summer outing, another tragedy: Spate of drownings continues as swimmer dies off Castle Island

Life guards after the rescue. The brothers had been swimming in Pleasure Bay.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

A frightening surge in drownings in Massachusetts claimed another victim on Thursday, this time off Castle Island in South Boston when a teenager disappeared, triggering a frantic search that ended shortly before 8 p.m. with the discovery of his body.

On yet another day when heat-weary swimmers flocked to area beaches and ponds, the 19-year-old man went missing in Pleasure Bay as weeping family members and horrified onlookers watched helplessly. State Police identified the drowning victim Friday as Joao Alves Teixeira of Boston.

The young man had been swimming relatively far from shore with his 20-year-old brother, who was rescued by emergency personnel. John Soares, president of Local 718, the union for Boston firefighters, said the missing swimmer apparently had some type of medical condition and might have suffered a seizure, based on conversations with the family.


Lifeguards earlier had several times blown their whistles to let the brothers know they had gone too far into the bay, said State Police Major Mark Kiley.

With the long July Fourth weekend about to begin, authorities are bracing for more emergencies amid an unprecedented mix of ominous factors that specialists say could be contributing to the spate of drownings.

The easing of the pandemic and the longest June heat wave since 1925 are drawing people to the water at a time of a shortage of lifeguards and swimming instructors.

In South Boston, police received a report of someone struggling in the water around 1:30 p.m., and emergency personnel rushed to the popular recreation area. Divers were soon in the water near the Sugar Bowl at Castle Island.

Dan Budynas of South Boston said he was out for a run and had been returning from Castle Island when he saw a group of people staring out at the water. Budynas said that he removed his headphones and heard someone screaming for help, but that he could not make out what the person was saying.


“He was way out in the water, just screaming hysterically,” Budynas said.

A swimmer who was rescued was brought back to shore at Pleasure Beach while rescue workers looked for his brother. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Budynas also said that about three or four people screamed, “Help him!” at the lifeguards. There had been two people in the water, Budnyas said — the person he heard screaming as well as the missing swimmer.

Boston Fire Department divers, Boston police, State Police, Boston Emergency Medical Services, Environmental Police, and the US Coast Guard were among the law enforcement agencies that responded. As a helicopter hovered offshore in the afternoon, nearly 100 onlookers watched as officials continued their search.

Later, as afternoon gave way to evening, a light drizzle fell and small boats continued to circle Pleasure Bay. More than two dozen emergency responders were still on the beach, facing the water, some of them under a temporary canopy.

Throughout the afternoon, a group of family members and others had gathered near the scene, many sobbing. At around 6 p.m., the group of about 50 gathered in a circle and held hands in prayer, while about 100 yards offshore, a diver slipped off a boat and into the water.

Shortly after 7:30 p.m., officials could be seen speaking with the family, then wails could be heard from the group.

State Police Sergeant Patrick Foley said the body was recovered in about 30 feet of water, but visibility underwater was only about 2 to 3 feet. The 19-year-old’s body was found using an underwater scanning device, added Kiley.


Soares said that rescuers had searched “all over the bay,” but that the operation was challenging.

“You have all of this movement in the water with the tides moving in and out. It makes the search harder,” he said. “He could be anywhere.”

The search followed a spate of drownings in the region. On Tuesday, 29-year-old Jhon Michel of Brockton drowned in Scituate near the Edward Foster Bridge. Michel did not resurface after jumping into the water, Scituate police said.

In May, there were 18 drownings in Massachusetts and another 10 in June.

On June 4, a 14-year-old boy and a Worcester police officer who attempted to rescue him drowned in a pond in that city. The next day, a 16-year-old boy died after he was pulled from a lake in Amesbury; a 17-year-old boy died after being retrieved from a pool in Dedham during a graduation party; and a man drowned in a pond in Plymouth.

On June 6, a 19-year-old man died after he was pulled from the water at Mound Street Beach in Quincy. On June 19, a 1-year-old boy drowned in a Wrentham pool. On June 23, a 60-year-old man drowned in a backyard pool in Shrewsbury, and the next day, a 19-year-old Roxbury man drowned swimming in a pond in Hyde Park.

Rescuers with BFD and lifeguards rescued a swimmer in waters off Castle Island on Thursday.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

There also was at least one close call. On June 12, a 10-year-old girl was reported in critical condition after a near-drowning in a swimming pool behind a home in Methuen.


Governor Charlie Baker’s office said Thursday that in an effort to increase public safety and awareness, he was introducing legislation to raise the fine for swimming at any body of water not designated for swimming by state or local authorities.

“While we encourage all to visit our beautiful coastal and inland beaches, we urge the public to exercise caution and not swim at any body of water that has not been designated for swimming by state or local authorities,” Baker said in a statement.

The drownings also have brought attention to a disparity in such deaths among racial groups.

The drowning rate for Black people is 1.5 times higher than for whites, and is 3.6 times higher for Black children ages 10-14 than white children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A 2017 study found that nearly 80 percent of children in families with household income less than $50,000 have no or low swimming ability.

Travis Andersen and Emily Sweeney of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Jeremy C. Fox contributed to this story. Material from the Associated Press was also used.

Family members at the scene of the drowning.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff
State Police joined the search off Castle Island.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at brian.macquarrie@globe.com.