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Teen surfer who was trapped underwater, rescued at Bend Whitewater Park has died, pastor says

(Update: Pastor confirms teen has died)

Had become trapped underwater in the rocks; BPRD shuts down wave feature

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – A Bend 17-year-old who became trapped underwater for several minutes Saturday while surfing with friends at the Bend Whitewater Park has died, the family’s pastor confirmed Sunday.

Keith Kirkpatrick, co-lead pastor at Journey Church in Bend, posted a brief public Facebook video and note Sunday afternoon to give the sad update about church member Ben Murphy’s passing.

“Friends, this is the update I did not want to ever have to share,” Kirkpatrick said in hushed, pained tones. “Ben is at home with the Lord Jesus. He passed away during a small procedure.”

The pastor offered thanks and gratitude to the thousands who were praying for the teen and for his family.

In the posting, Kirkpatrick asked, “Please do not reach out to the family at this time. Honor their requests for privacy. We continue to pray for the Murphy family. We love them and grieve with them.”

NewsChannel 21's Bola Gbadebo is reaching out to the Bend Park and Rec District, Kirkpatrick and others on Monday to follow up on this tragic incident. Anyone with information to share is asked to contact Bola at bola.gbadebo@ktvz.com.

Police officers and Bend Fire & Rescue were called around 12:20 p.m. Saturday to a reported water rescue at the whitewater park, located at the Colorado Avenue spillway, Bend Police Communications Manager Sheila Miller said.

The first responders learned the teen had been surfing with a group when he became trapped underwater in the rocks, Miller said.

Bystanders and others in Murphy's group were able to pull him from the water, and first responders performed CPR for about 30 minutes before he was taken to the hospital.

A webcam video overlooking the surfing area showed the teen apparently entering the water, going under and not surfacing. Soon, other surfers are seen diving in, one after the other, in an attempt to free him. Minutes later, several people on scene are seen running downriver, out of the webcam's view, where apparently he was pulled from the water.

A nearby resident, Isabella Ludwig, who went to the scene said more needs to be done for safety of the surfers.

"Especially witnessing this today, I think it's really important that something needs to happen, honestly, becuase there are so many tourists that come into Bend that don't know anything about the rapids, and think -- just a sign or something," Ludwig said.

The Bend Park and Recreation District, which operates the whitewater park, provided this statement to NewsChannel 21:

“Our thoughts are with the individual and their friends and family as we are awaiting additional information. The wave features are down now and will remain this way until we assess conditions. Any serious accident is a tragedy and a sad day for our facilities and community.”

Park district spokeswoman Julie Brown said this was the first such incident at the whitewater park since it opened in 2015.

The whitewater park was developed with removal of the Colorado Avenue Dam that had been a safety hazard for river floaters. It has three channels: a river right habitat channel, a center whitewater experts channel and a river left passageway called the Fish Ladder for river floaters.

Flow in the whitewater channel is controlled by a series of gates and 26 underwater pneumatic bladders that create waves, depending on water conditions. The park is used by surfers, whitewater kayakers, bodyboarders, paddleboarders and tubers.

Article Topic Follows: Accidents and Crashes
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Barney Lerten

Barney is the digital content director for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Barney here.

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Carly Keenan

Carly Keenan is a multimedia journalist and producer for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Carly here.

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Kelsey McGee

Kelsey McGee is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Kelsey here.

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