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College student who drowned at 31st Street beach was All-Star football player

Chicago Police remove body from 31st street beach. Thursday July 5 2012 | Brian Jackson~Chicago Sun-Times

Chicago Police remove a body from 31st street beach. Thursday, July 5, 2012 | Brian Jackson~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: August 7, 2012 6:21AM

The body of a Southern Illinois University senior who went missing after going swimming Wednesday was discovered in the water off a South Side beach Thursday morning.

Mahlik J. Harris, a 2008 graduate of Kenwood High School and senior at SIU in Carbondale, had just come to Chicago from Carbondale on Wednesday for a reunion with his family, his great-uncle Brian Harris said.

Mahlik Harris also planned to see his father, who was also in town for the reunion, his great-uncle said.

Harris went swimming at 9:00 p.m. with his step-sisters — but was unable to get back to shore.

“He was popular and well-liked. He was an excellent role model” for his 11-year-old brother, his great-uncle said. “He was a very, very popular guy. He was a good kid, going in the right direction.”

Harris was majoring in advertising at SIU, where he was on the water polo team. He was working this summer at a Carbondale nursing home and was pursuing a career as a hip-hop producer, his uncle Reggie Banks said.

“He just wanted to excel. He was caring, aspiring and giving. We’d talked a lot lately about how to succeed even when people said he couldn’t do it,” Banks said.

In his senior year at Kenwood, Harris was MVP of the Public League All-Star football game.

On Wednesday night a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter was searching along Lake Michigan and spotted a suspicious object in the water off 31st Street, Chicago Police spokesman Michael Sullivan said.

At 7:25 a.m. Thursday, the police Marine Unit recovered Harris’ body near 31st Street beach, Sullivan said.

Banks’ fiance, Tamara Fair, believes Harris was caught in a riptide, although officials could not say for sure that was the case. She said there isn’t adequate warning to swimmers at 31st Street beach about the danger of riptides.

“He played water polo, so he was a very sound swimmer. If he’d have had those kinds of warnings, clearly he would have abided by them,” she said. Said Banks: “The main thing now is preventing this tragedy from happening to the next family.”

While Lake Michigan has the most riptide-related fatalities of all the Great Lakes, the majority usually occur on the eastern shore, said Jim Allsopp, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

“It’s pretty rare for Chicago to get a riptide based on the slope of the shore and the breakwaters” he said.

A riptide warning was not in effect Wednesday for Chicago, according to the National Weather Service.

There are signs at 31st Street beach prohibiting swimming after 7 p.m., when the beach closes and there are no lifeguards on duty, Chicago Park District spokeswoman Marta Juaniza said.

“When a swimmer enters after hours, they do so at their own risk,” she said.

Contributing: Sun-Times Media Wire

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