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Body of woman who fell in Chicago River recovered

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Updated: January 15, 2014 7:09PM

The body of an honors college student who fell into the Chicago River early Monday was found on Wednesday.

Lauren Li, an University of Minnesota senior, was found by the Chicago Police Marine Unit about 1 p.m., officials confirmed.

Li, 21, had been missing since she fell into the water along with two friends early Monday. One friend, 26-year-old Ken Hoang, climbed over a fence in the 400 block of East Water Street to reach for his phone after he dropped it into the river, authorities said.

Li, of Burnsville, Minn., and Quoc-Viet Phan Hoang, 23, both fell in the river trying to help Ken Hoang, authorities said.

Ken Hoang, of St. Paul, Minn., was pronounced dead at Northwestern Memorial Hospital at 3:14 a.m. Monday, according to the medical examiner’s office.

An autopsy conducted Tuesday found Ken Hoang drowned, and listed alcohol toxicity as a secondary factor, according to the medical examiner’s office. His death was ruled an accident. The two men were pulled from the river a few minutes after midnight, according to the Chicago Fire Department.

Ken Hoang’s sister on Wednesday called this week the “longest and hardest 2 days of my life.”

“I lost a loving brother and I lost a great friend,” Kathy Hoang wrote on Lauren Li’s Facebook page. “Anyone could tell you that Lauren Li and Ken Hoang were the life of any gathering. They almost always had a big grin on their faces while making silly jokes at each other’s expense.”

“She sacrificed her own life in an attempt to save my brother and for that, she will forever hold a special place in my heart,” Kathy Hoang wrote.

Li was an honors student at University of Minnesota’s College of Biological Sciences, according to the university. She also was very active in several organizations, including the Asian American Student Union and the Chinese American Student Association.

Ken Hoang also attended the university until 2010, studying economics, although he did not graduate.

“Finding her body is a relief that provides closure to her family and friends,” Danita Brown Young, vice provost at the university said Wednesday.

Quoc-Viet Phan Hoang was initially listed in fair condition at Presence Saint Joseph Hospital but was released on Wednesday.

“I lost two good friends. It’s not easy seeing your friend drift away and having one die in your arms,” Phan Hoang said in a statement released through the hospital. “I have never felt so helpless in my life. This situation is very emotionally difficult and out of respect for the families involved I would like to leave it at that.”

Phan Hoang also thanked the City of Chicago, its first responders, and Luis Bertrant, who he says came to his aid and called 9-1-1. “He is our hero,” Phan Hoang said.

An online fund-raiser on has already net nearly $11,000 for Ken Hoang’s family to cover burial costs. Another $5,000 has been raised for Li’s family.

The deaths came less than a month after 30-year-old Alicia Garnett of Texas fell into the frigid Chicago River near Michigan Avenue in the early morning hours. Garnett was in the icy water for more than 15 minutes. An autopsy, however, was inconclusive, pending toxicology reports.

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