Pickering residents are expressing shock and grief after a 33-year-old woman drowned Sunday in an effort to save her son.

“It’s heartbreaking.  It’s a terrible, tragic situation,” one area resident said. “My deepest condolences to them, it’s awful.”

The woman was identified by family and friends Monday as Nichole McWatters of Oshawa.

Emergency crews were called to Sandbar Road at Pickering’s waterfront at around 3:45 p.m. Sunday after receiving a call about people in distress.

According to Durham police, McWatters was in the lake with her six-year-old son, who was on an inflatable raft.

“It was kind of a windy day and the raft started moving,” Durham police spokesperson Dave Selby said.   “It got out about 25 to 30 feet away from her and I think she realized what happened and she went after the child and she was not a very good swimmer.”

Three men noticed what was happening and jumped in the water to assist. One of the men was able to get the child to the shore, but McWatters was not able to get back.

Bystanders eventually reached McWatters and performed CPR on her until paramedics arrived. She was rushed to hospital, where she was pronounced dead a short time later.

Her son did not sustain any serious injuries.

“It’s sad, you know.  But as a mom, you know, she did what she had to do to save her baby,” one area residents told CTV News Toronto.

Friends of McWatters have said on social media they are “shattered” by the news and described the young mother as having a vibrant and bubbly personality.”

The Lifesaving Society of Canada has said that children and weak swimmers should always wear a life vest around the water and that inflatable toys and rafts should not be considered as safety devices.

- With a report by CTV News Toronto Reporter Janice Golding