Police, neighbours and even strangers from up and down the Lake Erie shoreline will resume searching Wednesday for nine-year-old Alex Ottley after he was swept into icy waters while trying to rescue a friend.
Three youngsters were exploring an ice shelf in the cottage community of Peacock Point east of Nanticoke on Saturday when a wave pulled one eight-year-old boy into the cold lake.
Another wave claimed Alex — who family members have called a hero — as he reached for his friend, said OPP Const. Rodney LeClair. Adults pulled out one boy, but Alex went under and did not resurface.
The four-day-old search for the body of the boy was hampered by high winds Tuesday that prevented police boats and divers from entering the water, said LeClair, but an OPP helicopter buzzed overhead as teams painstakingly walked the shoreline.
That search was aided from the get-go by legions of “amazing” Peacock Point cottagers,” said LeClair. “I just can’t say enough about the people in this community,” he said. “Everybody knows everybody — they all knew this little boy. You can see the pain on their faces. They all want to do something.”
Peacock Point cottager Debbie Vallee said volunteers have patrolled the shoreline for kilometres, dug up topographical maps, offered to organize dives and even brought in a drone.
“Alex is one of our own. We’re all struggling really hard with that,” said Vallee, whom family members asked to speak on their behalf Tuesday. (An uncle, Stephen Ottley, sent The Spectator a message thanking the community for support and asking for space to grieve.)
Vallee said Alex was one of only a handful of youngsters his age who live full time in the community of about 300 cottages. Only about 120 people live there through the winter.
Vallee’s voice trembled as she recalled Alex taking part in the annual Peacock Point summer bike parade with her own granddaughter and soaring on a swing set in the park across the road from the steep, grassy hill that leads to the lake.
She said Alex, his sister and young friend had been playing in the park, but apparently decided to explore an ice shelf that on the weekend briefly extended 25 feet into the lake. The same large waves that snatched the two boys from the edge had completely dispersed the dangerous ice pack by Tuesday.
“We’re all willing to do whatever we can, get out there with binoculars, whatever it takes,” Vallee said. “I just hope they find little Alex soon. It’s the unknown that is the worst.”
The volunteer search efforts go far beyond shoreline patrols.
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Val Patrick pointed Tuesday to a camera-topped drone sitting beside a laptop in the back of the Peacock Point variety store that is the default gathering place for searchers. Two men used the microwave-sized drone to search the ice pack all day Sunday. “The wind was howling, the whole day — but they stayed with it out until it was dark,” he said.
Another resident organized searches of little-known lake inlets. Two divers from Port Dover, meanwhile, showed up on Monday to search the other side of the point where police teams focused their own underwater search.
A steady stream of cottagers also visited the variety store Tuesday to ask for updates — and drop off a feast of coffee, doughnuts, brownies and other snacks for police and other searchers.
Doug Cowles dropped off a case of bottled water Tuesday afternoon and stopped to stare at the waves pounding the shoreline. “We all send out our prayers, but you want to do whatever else you can, right?” he said.