Friends remember victims who died in Chickamauga Lake when boat flipped

Friends remember victims who died in Chickamauga Lake when boat flipped

July 8th, 2012 by Shelly Bradbury in News

Zoe Madeline McDonough, Susan McDonough

Family and friends say Zoe Madeline McDonough was a smart young girl with a passion for music, dance and her Girl Scout Brownies troop. Her grandmother, Susan McDonough, is remembered as optimistic, well-loved and a dedicated church member.

Zoe, 10, and her grandmother died Thursday night when high winds flipped the pontoon boat they were riding in on Chickamauga Lake, trapping them underwater for several minutes. Ten other people on the boat got safely to shore.

Zoe was a rising fifth grader at Westview Elementary School. She was a straight-A student.

"Zoe made a point of including everybody," Westview Elementary School Principal Margo Williams said. "She didn't belong to a certain group of kids, she wanted to be friends with everyone. She was a dream student."

Zoe loved to sing and dance and recently performed a dance with three other girls in a school talent show.

"Zoe loved music, she always had a smile on her face," long-time family friend Ashlie Henderson said. "She was just full of life, energy and love for people. She was a wonderful big sister."

Zoe was very involved with Brownies Troop No. 40507, and enjoyed playing volleyball and soccer. She wanted to become an art teacher.

"She donated her hair to Locks of Love just recently," Henderson said, referring to the program that makes wigs for cancer patients who lose their hair to chemotherapy. "She loved elderly people and was very close to her grandparents on both sides."

Susan McDonough, a native of New Richland, Minn., often took her granddaughters to church with her, Vista Lutheran Church interim pastor Paul Meierding said.

"This is a church with very small attendance -- 20 people or so," he said. "Usually there wouldn't be a lot of kids there, but often she would bring several of her granddaughters to church, and it was fun to have those kids there."

He said Susan played a major role in the church.

"Sue was so positive and so appreciative," he said. "She was just well-loved in the congregation. This is just a huge shock."

The McDonough family was out on the lake for a picnic with out-of-town relatives when the wind and waves started to pick up. Witness Debbie Brown said the family decided to head back to Lakeshore Marina but couldn't beat the storm.

"They were just a sweet family out having a fun day," she said. "We've lived on the lake for 11 years, and storms come up, but I've never seen a wind storm like that before. It just came up so quickly."

Roger Forgey saw the boat flip from his front yard.

"The front of the boat came up on a wave, and it looked like the back of the boat just blew out from under them," he said. "It flipped over from front to back. Not sideways, but end over end, backwards."

Forgey grabbed his personal watercraft and went out to help the family. He was joined by fisherman Ben Brooks and neighbors Mike Brown and his son, Michael Brown. Together, the neighbors pulled people out of the water.

Zoe and Susan McDonough were taken to Forgey's dock, where neighbors immediately began CPR.

Debbie said the family was incredibly brave.

"The father was so heroic," she said. "The men in the family were heroic. They had all the children in life jackets, and they refused to leave until they got everybody out."

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at or 423-756-6476.