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Hundreds gather in remembrance of Tinley Park teen

Matthew Kocher | Supplied

Matthew Kocher | Supplied

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Updated: August 29, 2014 1:13PM



Matt Kocher was a gentle giant.

At just 15 years old, he was well above 6-feet tall and probably wasn’t done growing. His feet were so big that his family had to special order shoes for him. Those who love him knew that, beneath the Tinley Park teen’s large structure was kindness and a softness.

“Whenever he was talking to someone that wasn’t one his friends,” said Nathan Xiao, while pointing to himself and several buddies, “he would blush.”

Matt drowned while swimming through rough waters in Lake Michigan exactly one year ago Sunday. More than 200 people gathered inside Orland Hills’ St. Elizabeth Seton Church on the anniversary in remembrance of the Tinley Park teen.

John Kocher, Matt’s father, spoke on Sunday at the remembrance mass about receiving the call with his wife and Matt’s mother, Kathy, that their son have been involved in an accident.

“Five hours later, our beautiful boy left this world to be with God,” John said.

Matt died after he was pulled from Lake Michigan near New Buffalo City Beach in New Buffalo, Mich.

Police in that Michigan town said multiple lifeguards helped a swimmer in distress about 3:30 p.m. and performed CPR. He was initially taken to Saint Anthony Hospital in Michigan City, Ind. before being airlifted to the University of Chicago Medical Center.

He was pronounced dead at 8:21 p.m.

“We’re getting through this and out of the darkness by the power of the Holy Spirit,” John said said.

Matt was attending a summer camp with friends, Xiao, Zac Petro, Ryan Donahue and Joe Scott, who are all now 16 years old and still attend Andrew High School. During the weekend in between the two weeks of the camp, his father said, camp counselors drove two dozen campers to the lake.

The water was cold that day and huge waves were crashing on the shore, Matt’s friends said. Flags warning about the dangerous conditions were flying on nearby lifeguard towers. A U.S. Coast Guard station in Michigan City reported waves 3- to 5-feet tall.

But the teen boys waded in anyway.

His father said there were no lifeguards on duty.

“We didn’t think it was going to be that bad,” Xiao said.

The next thing they knew, Matt had been swept out by the current.

John told those gathered in remembrance that, in the year since the accident, he is heartened by hearing stories about Matt.

His son had a perpetual smile and warm eyes that matched his personality, John said. He enjoyed life and lived it fully.

“The longing for Matt is not diminished,” he said. “It still tears at our hearts and takes our breath away.”



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