(Update: adding new video, info, comments from parents)
'It was, and probably forever will be, the worst day of my life'
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The wound is still fresh for a Bend family who lost their 17-year-old son to a tragic crash at Wickiup Reservoir on June 28. Now, they want to spread a message to other people in the community --cherish every moment you have together, because you never know which one might be your last.
"This is who AJ was. That was him. He was fun, very fun," said the parents of Anthony "AJ" Clough as they scrolled through their camera roll, looking at old pictures and videos with a smile on their faces.
But those smiles are few and far between these days.
AJ, who always wanted to be the center of attention, was taken from the world much too early.
"The hardest part of losing a child is living every day after,” AJ’s mother, Lynelle Clough, told NewsChannel 21 Wednesday.
During the night of June 28, AJ was hanging out with his friends at Wickiup Reservoir. He was supposed to come home at midnight, but told Lynelle he was going to stay late.
Lynelle later found out AJ and four of his friends from Bend, also teenagers, were “partying,” as she put it.
She said they were doing donuts in a pickup, when it flipped into the reservoir.
All of the other passengers made it out. AJ did not.
“I watched them pull my son from the water. I actually touched him in a body bag,” Lynelle said. “It was, and probably forever will be, the worst day of my life."
The days since the crash have not gotten any easier. Lynelle said she even walks into AJ’s room by accident sometimes to tell him something, but he's not sitting in his gaming chair, talking to his friends or crossing items off his calendar.
"Call his teacher, he did that apparently,” Lynelle said, looking at AJ’s to-do list. “Shower -- he didn't do that,” she joked.
AJ's parents say he had a creative mind, with hopes of becoming an inventor. He played basketball and football, and was about to enter his senior year at Mountain View High School. He had even just passed his driver license test four days before the crash.
"He was stoked,” said Rick Collins, AJ’s stepfather since he was six months old. “I mean, it had been like a year, going back and forth -- fail the test, fail the test -- he was just so stoked that he finally passed the test. I was like, ‘Yeah, okay, now we've got to teach you how to drive stick!'"
Lynelle and Rick say AJ's passing has left a void in their life and in their hearts. Although he's gone, they say he will never be forgotten.
"He's very loved, and he's very missed,” Rick said.
A GoFundMe account has been started in AJ's honor by one of his three siblings, Destinee.
A.J.'s obituary was published Wednesday and posted on the Baird Funeral Homes website:
Anthony J Bryant Clough, also known as AJ, aged 17, entered eternity under tragic circumstances the night of June 28, 2021. AJ was born January 9, 2004 in Lakeland, Florida. AJ’s family relocated to Bend in July of 2006, when he was just two years old. AJ is survived by his parents Rick Collins and Lynelle Clough; and siblings Junior, Destinee, and Maddison; and shepherd-doodle fur babies Bear and Blue.
AJ made a big impact in the Central Oregon community in his short 17 years. He was a caring, kind, and loving young man who knew how to make friends easily and make people feel important and noticed. He was compassionate and always happy to help those in need. AJ was a vivacious young man, full of life and energy, and always ready for an adventure. He very much enjoyed playing sports such as football and basketball. AJ had a goofy side and would often times play pranks on family and friends. It is no surprise that he enjoyed good food and seemed to have an appetite that could not be satisfied! AJ had experienced many difficulties and dark times in his short life, but one thing is without doubt: he was an exceptionally resilient young man. During his junior year, AJ began working at Papa Murphy’s part time while also getting himself on track to graduate from Mountain View High School in June of 2022; he was so looking forward to his senior year and being able to experience all the “senior” things.
Unfortunately, AJ’s dreams and aspirations were cut short. AJ will never get to experience his senior year of high school. AJ had just received his license four days before his passing, but will never have the chance to pick out his first car. AJ will never have the chance to mature into an honorable young man. AJ will never become the inventor-entrepreneur his mother always believed he would become. AJ will never have the chance to meet and marry the lady of his dreams. AJ will never have the chance to become a loving and doting father.
Any and all community members are invited to honor AJ’s memory and legacy with a viewing at 10:00 AM followed by a memorial service at 10:30 AM on Saturday, July 10, 2021 located at Victory Baptist Church in Bend (1034 NE 11th St). Memorial contributions can be made to the family to help with funeral expenses (https://gofund.me/7fe6b40c) or to Victory Baptist Church (https://www.victoryforyou.church/give/)