Suburban Mother Drowns Trying to Save Boy

Karen Wessel, of Arlington Heights, attempted to save friend's son from Wisconsin lake

An Illinois woman died Tuesday after trying to save a 9-year-old boy in a northern Wisconsin Lake.

Authorities say the victim, 47-year-old Karen Wessel, of Arlington Heights, was on vacation with her sister, a friend and four children in Star Lake when they decided to go for a swim.

Three of the boys swam across a channel to a sandbar, but when they started heading back, they got tired and started to struggle.

Wessel's sister, Janice Potocki, and her friend, Karen Altamore, swam out to assist two of the boys and swam back to shore. Potocki went back out to help the third boy, but Wessel also went out to assist when she noticed her sister getting tired.

Wessel swam underneath the boy to try to push him above the water's surface, but witnesses told authorities that after a short time, Wessel didn't come back up.  

A person in a pontoon boat rescued the boy from the water, but wasn't able to get to Wessel soon enough. Despite several efforts to perform CPR, she was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

Potocki spoke to NBC 5 Wednesday night about her beloved sister who she calls a true hero.

"The world needs heroes, and I'm sorry it was my sister, but the world needs them," Potocki said.

Potocki said Star Lake was a familiar place that the family visited many times.

"That's where you went to unplug and disconnect and find yourself again, relax and realize what's truly important in life," Potocki said.

Wessel, a single mother of two, was active in the Arlington Heights School District 25.

Superintendent Lori D. Bein issued a statement saying they are "saddened" to hear about the tragedy.

"Karen Wessel has been known as a positively involved parent, volunteering at school and with the ABC/25 Foundation. I know the wonderful families and staff in Arlington Heights District 25 will offer whatever support the family and community need," Bein said.

Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

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