After the death of his 17-year-old son, a Lake Forest father left his executive banking job to work for an international Christian ministry -- a decision that stemmed from a series of devastating losses, he wrote in a subsequent book.
Now Gerard Long and his wife, Jeannie, face another tragedy: Authorities identified a woman pulled from Lake Michigan as their daughter, Rebecca Long, 32, who lived with them on North Sheridan Road.
Divers discovered her body near a boat ramp after a two-hour search Thursday morning. Her parents, who were in England when given the news, were on their way home Friday, officials said.
Authorities are withholding the results of Friday’s autopsy pending interviews with family members upon their return, Lake County Coroner Thomas Rudd said.
Long, an avid runner, is believed to have drowned after swimming from Forest Park Beach, Lake Forest Deputy Police Chief Karl Walldorf said. Rescue crews were called after several people reported seeing someone struggling in the water around 8:20 a.m., police said.
“Looking at what we know now, we don’t have anything to disprove that she jumped in, swam for a while and was overcome,” Walldorf said.
Rebecca Long had been wearing running clothes -- orange running sunglasses, black running pants and a black T-shirt, he said. Her running shoes and a black fleece jacket were found on a rock near the boat ramp.
Witnesses at the beach said they saw her swimming before becoming distressed, waving her arms and yelling, he said. Her body was found by divers using sonar about 60 to 90 yards from the breakwaters protecting the boat ramp.
Because there was little current Thursday, it appears likely that she swam that far out, Walldorf said.
“With as hot as it was (Thursday), she was a little overdressed,” he said. “Maybe she just peeled off and jumped in without realizing how brutally cold (the lake) is.”
Long was the national director of youth for Alpha USA, a nonprofit Christian ministry organization based in Bannockburn, according to officials with the organization. Her father left his senior banking career at HSBC in 2006 to become Alpha USA's executive director, according to the group’s website.
Rebecca Long’s brother, Alex Long, a student at Loyola Academy, died in November 2005, according to his obituary.
Gerard Long, in an interview published on the Alpha USA website for his book, “The Breakthrough,” wrote that his son had used some recreational drugs, “became very confused and ended up taking his life.”
“I experienced utter and total brokenness,” Gerard Long wrote. “Two months after that, my sister, whom I was very close to, died of cancer. Just two months after that, my wife had to have emergency surgery and nearly died from a broken heart.”
The couple also has a son, Ben, who lives in London, according to Alpha USA’s website.
The organization has about 25 employees in Bannockburn and about 50 nationally, said Mike Singh, director of development for Alpha USA.
Rebecca Long was “amazing,” Singh said. “She had tremendous love and care for others. She was very gentle. Very soft-spoken. She was a beautiful girl, physically and emotionally.”
Laura Lies, a national coordinator for Alpha USA who oversees marriage and parenting courses, said she had grown close to Long in the past year or so as they worked together in roles of national leadership within the organization.
“As women in the church ministry, especially at the level we were gifted, it can be kind of lonely,” Lies said. “It was really nice we were able to encourage each other.”
Lies described Long as a “quietly assertive” and gracious woman who was deeply committed to her Christian faith.
Long held a master's degree from Loyola University, Singh said. She had worked for Alpha USA for about seven years.
“She has a great passion for working with the youth and sharing the passion of Christ through her work,” he said.
Singh said that on Thursday night, he spoke with Gerard Long, who was with his wife in London.
“He's a very strong man. He relies on the Lord heavily,” Singh said of Long's father. “He was OK. Kind of numb, but OK.”