Indiana Dunes National Park

Family of Missing Man Who Fell Through Ice Along Lake Michigan Hopeful for Closure

22-year-old Bryce Dunfee fell through an ice shelf at West Beach at Indiana Dunes National Park Monday

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Officials are reminding people about the dangers of shelf ice after a tragic accident on Monday, in which a 22-year-old man plunged into the waters of Lake Michigan.

Bryce Dunfee, 22, was walking with friends on the ice at West Beach at Indiana Dunes National Park on Monday when the ice gave way and he fell into the water.

As the search continues for Dunfee, his family is speaking out about the difficult circumstances that have followed the tragedy.

"I think it’s more denial than anything," said Emily Shiroda, speaking on behalf of Dunfee's family.

"We all know it was a dumb decision. There’s no denying that, but we don’t want that to be the only thing people remember," said Shiroda, Dunfee's sister-in-law.

His family says Dunfee had just moved to Portage and was applying for jobs. He grew up in Fort Wayne and also recently lived in Indianapolis.

He was unfamiliar with the dangers of shelf ice, according to his family.

"It [was] a mistake that happened that most families don’t understand and think it won’t happen to them. I would not want anybody to have to go through that," said Dunfee's sister, Miranda Bowlin.

The search for Dunfee continues, though as of Wednesday, conditions on Lake Michigan were still too dangerous for dive teams or boats to enter the water.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources says ground crews will conduct daily searches near the lakefront.

"We don’t want the last five minutes of his mistake to be what defines him," said Shiroda, who started a GoFundMe page called "Funeral Services for Bryce Dunfee" to help the family pay for expenses related to the search.

They're staying in a hotel near the beach, prepared to help in the search.

"I want him to be remembered as a goofy funny person who wanted everyone to be loved," said Bowlin.

Indiana Conservation Officers urge the public to stay off shelf ice along Lake Michigan as it can be unpredictable and extremely dangerous.

"Oftentimes people might not even know they’re on the shelf ice because they think it’s part of a sand dune," said Dave Benjamin, the co-founder of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project (GLSRP).

The GLSRP tracks drownings in the Great Lakes. In 2021, 47 drownings were reported in Lake Michigan.

Benjamin says though there is some signage at West Beach warning of ice, he'd like to see more specific language explaining ice shelves.

"They need to update the signs," said Benjamin. "Having these types of signs, which are easy to put up and put down and easy to station where these hazards are would be the ideal approach to this, as well as having public service officers out there to warn the public of the hazards."

Dunfee's family is hopeful for closure so they can prepare funeral services.

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