Lost boys found in lake

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“A week ago today my life loving son saddled his last horse and headed to church. He was dressed to the nines in a charcoal suit, black shirt and purple tie. After services he hurried to the barn to lead two horse rides which would be his last task here on Earth,” Fawnwy Stephenson wrote in a July 7 post on a memorial Facebook page set up in the drowning victims’ memories. Stephenson is mother of Seth Stephenson, one of the victims.

Police confirmed the identities of 16-year-old Seth Stephenson, of Chaparral, and 15-year-old Noah Hooper of Longmont, Colo., as of 3 p.m. July 5. The two teens went missing from their group on June 30, after being seen “island-hopping” by other members of their party from the Apache Creek Deaf and Youth Ranch, there for a day long outing.

“They looked like they just fell asleep,” said Pastor Craig Lang, with Apache Creek Deaf and Youth Ranch, who made the initial identification of the boys along with Mark Stephenson, Seth’s father.

Lang said that the group had planned the outing to Quemado Lake for June 29, but delayed it a day because Noah Hooper was coming to the camp that evening. Seth Stephenson asked the pastor if they could delay the trip until later on Sunday because some local youth were interested in going horseback riding, and Seth wanted to take them. The party left the ranch for Quemado Lake at around 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Everyone was paired with a swimming buddy, even though Lang said he realized that was somewhat unusual to do with teenagers. They went to the shallow part of the lake, no more than waist deep, and were fishing and playing in the water. The plan was for everyone to reconvene at 5 p.m.

Stephenson and Hooper were not there when the group gathered a little before 5 p.m. Two other campers said they had each seen the missing boys out in the water near the islands, close to the other side of the lake. Lang and other group leaders went to where the boys were thought to have last been seen, and discovered some shoes and other clothing. The entire group started searching for the boys.

Lang said they approached the camp host, a U.S. Forest Service employee on site, and were asked to wait 45 minutes to see if the boys would show up, before any further reports or searches would be initiated.

At 6:30 p.m. June 30, the group asked the host to call the sheriff’s office, who in turn called the state police.

“Officer Jim Forgue was on site at 8:36 p.m. (state police) dispatch received a call from the (Catron County) Sheriff’s office at 18:55 (6:55 p.m.) that two boys were missing,” state police Sgt. Emmanuel Gutierrez said. Gutierrez is the public information officer for the case.

Forest Service officials, along with ranch staff and others, continued searching for the missing boys throughout that time period. Search and Rescue teams and the state police dive team were called in at 9 p.m. Sunday.

The air patrol was called in later, and patrolled by air much of the day Monday, as well as Wednesday until about 1 p.m., when the first body was found in the water.

Stephenson and Hooper, friends who were both volunteers and guests helping at the ranch, were first discovered to be missing at around 5 p.m. on June 30, when the summer camp staff and campers were gathering to leave the Quemado Lake recreation area. Campers had been fishing, swimming and generally playing in the shallow area of the lake that afternoon.

Lang said Seth had been going to the ranch with his parents since he was very young. His parents would dedicate their entire two-week vacation to volunteering at the ranch. Fawnwy Stephenson was working at the ranch all summer this year. Hooper had not visited the ranch before this summer.

A memorial page has been established on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/InMemoryOfSethAndNoah?ref=stream, for family and friends to post photos and thoughts in memory of the two boys. The Stephenson family has also established a web site to accept donations to cover expenses for Seth’s arrangements at http://www.youcaring.com/memorial-fundraiser/funds-to-help-the-stephenson-family-bury-dear-seth-/70691. The Apache Creek Deaf and Youth Ranch will also accept donations. They can be reached at 575-533-6967 or 575-533-6820.

According to New Mexico State Police Sgt. Jeffe Burke, who was on scene during most of the search, there were multiple agencies involved in the search and recovery effort, including the Catron County Sheriff’s Office, the state police search and rescue, the state police dive team, the Mesilla Valley Search and Rescue, the Mesilla Valley Search K9 Unit, the Sandia Search K9 Unit, Reserve and Quemado Volunteer Fire/EMS personnel, the U.S. Forest Service, the US Border Patrol Search Team and a private citizen who loaned the dive team the use of his boat. A counselor from the youth camp and family members of the two missing victims were also on scene the entire time. They were camped at the lake since the boys had gone missing on Sunday. Local resident Shannon Zetich provided food for the rescue teams while they were searching.

The first body was recovered just after 1 p.m. July 3. The second body was found at approximately 3 p.m. in the same area, on the same day.

The teens’ bodies were discovered on the southeast side of the lake in the main channel directly across the lake from the campground on Quemado Road, in about 14 feet of water, and covered in silt and mud.

“Positive ID took some time, due to the length of time the bodies were in the water,” Gutierrez said. “A lot can happen to a body in water in the length of time they were missing.”

Services for Seth will begin at noon with a viewing and the funeral at 2 p.m. at Apache Creek Deaf and Youth Ranch, Highway 32, mile marker 6.2 at Apache Creek. Service information for Noah was not available by press time.

 

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