(Update: Adding video, tributes from friends of Escobar)
Mother mourns 'gentle giant,' as classmates recall happier times: 'He would just want everyone to be happy'
REDMOND, Ore. (KTVZ) – Grief-stricken Ridgeview High School students, staff and the Redmond community on Monday mourned the loss and supported the family of a 17-year-old junior at the school who drowned while swimming at Steelhead Falls on Saturday.
Carmen Zavala contacted NewsChannel 21 to confirm that it was her son, Isrrael Isai Escobar, who died on Saturday, the younger of her two sons.
“He’s my baby,” she said. “Isrrael’s a good soul. He had so much to give. He would never hurt anybody. He was a gentle giant.”
At the falls early Monday afternoon, a group of Escobar's friends gathered in the parking lot.
One friend, Alex Pearsall, told us: "Even if it's a mourning time, he would just want everyone to be happy."
According to Jefferson County Sheriff Jason Pollock, bystanders tried to rescue the teen, but the fast-moving pressure of the falls made it impossible.
A lifelong friend, Luke Smith, said: "He's caring, charismatic, he was so funny, he was smart. He was .... just everything."
"He was a character and someone that --.I'll never forget about him. I love him so much," Smith added
A group of about 20 friends traveled to the falls on Monday with signed photos and flowers for an impromptu vigil remembering Escobar.
Ashleigh Barber recalled a funny memory.
"I did a toe-touch, and he wanted to do a toe-touch with me," she said. "And he split his pants right before we went on stage, and it was the funniest thing ever. We laughed forever because of it."
Mattie Dyer also recalled the happy times: "He had this laugh that like, if you heard it from miles away, you'd be like, 'That's Isrrael!'"
Others highlighted Isrrael's talent on the flute, and hislove for Michael Jordan's shoes.
"He was like, 'wow, I'm going to be a senior next year, and that's going to be me that we're sharing like, memories together.' And he would just talk about his future and his friends," friend Parker Macomber recalled.
Isrrael had shared with friends his dream of attending Oregon State University and being in the marching band.
"He was an incredibly energetic fellow," bandmate Preston Sleeth said. "I think it'll be really difficult without his light-hearted attitude in our band."
I asked if anyone had anything else to share about Isrrael. Ashleigh Barber did.
"Just that we lost an angel. He was amazing."
Zavala said her son grew up in Redmond and had many interests that he loved and was passionate about.
“He can do music, he can cook and he can draw,” she said, including drawings he made for her and one her older son made a tattoo of.
Zavala said she especially wanted to thank the community for the outpouring of support the family has received since the tragic news was learned.
A family member's fundraising effort is underway to assist with funeral expenses.
Jefferson County Sheriff Jason Pollock said deputies and Crooked River Ranch Fire and Rescue crews responded around 2:18 p.m. Saturday to the report of a swimmer who was underwater near the popular gathering spot.
Fire crews arrived on scene in about 15 minutes and made their way to the falls, about a half-mile hike in on the uneven, steep and narrow trail. When they reached the falls, they confirmed a 17-year-old male was underwater beneath the falls, Pollock said.
“Bystanders attempted to rescue the male from the falls, (but) were unable to do so due to the swift, fast-moving down-pressure of the falls,” the sheriff said in a news release.
Deschutes County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue responded, along with the Swiftwater Rescue Team, Deschutes County Dive Team and Bend Fire & Rescue Technical Rescue Team, the sheriff said.
Investigators determined that the teen, a junior at Ridgeview High School, swam toward the falls and got caught in the swift undertow, Pollock said.
Rescue crews worked in the area, searching for the teen. Around 6:45 p.m., the dive team was able to locate his body about 40 yards downriver from the falls.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the friends and family,” Pollock said. Authorities did not release the teen’s name.
The sheriff thanked first responders who responded to the incident, which also included the BLM Ranger and Central Oregon Chaplaincy.
The Redmond School District issued this statement Sunday:
"We will have counseling support available for all of our Ridgeview students and staff on Monday. We are deeply saddened by this loss and will make every effort to support each other through this tough time. Our deepest condolences to the family. We encourage everyone to be respectful of the family's privacy at this time."