Burnsville grad, 21, dies in Chicago River mishap

Lauren Li

Lauren Li, a 2011 Burnsville High School graduate and former co-captain of the school’s Blazettes dance team, apparently drowned early Monday morning in the Chicago River.

The 21-year-old Burnsville woman was with friends traveling to New Jersey when they stopped in Chicago, said her friend and former Blazettes co-captain, Rachel Hassler.

Li’s friend Ken Hoang, 26, was reportedly taking photos of the river when his phone dropped onto a piece of ice. He slipped and fell into the river trying to retrieve the phone. Hoang died shortly after rescuers pulled him from the river.

Li and another friend, a 23-year-old man whose name hasn’t been released, went after Hoang. The 23-year-old man survived; Li was missing and presumed dead.

An excellent student in high school, Li was studying pharmacology at the University of Minnesota, Hassler said. Dance and school were “a huge part of her life.”

“She literally was the one person probably in the entire world that was always happy,” said Hassler, one of four captains on the 2010-11 Blazettes team, who attends the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. “She cared so much for the Blazette team and was the hardest-working. She had the most contagious laugh. She was the loudest one on the team and the most helpful one.”

Hassler said she saw her former co-captain recently at the Target in Burnsville and at the South Suburban Conference dance finals.

“It’s crazy to me that she passed because of her intense bravery,” Hassler said. “It’s nothing out of the ordinary for her. She always wanted to help others. It’s just so sad. So many people will miss her. She made everyone feel like they were best friends with her.”