Authorities searched for a missing Ohio student off the coast of Costa Rica today after two of his classmates drowned when they were caught in a violent riptide.
The three teens -- Caity Jones, James Smith and Kai Lamar -- are all high school students at Patriot Preparatory Academy, a Christian charter school in Columbus, Ohio. They, along with other classmates, were on a school sponsored missionary trip and were swimming at a beach near the Pacific coast town of Parrita.
"From what I understand they were all out in the water, all eight kids and four adults. A rip tide grabbed five of them. The lifeguard rescued two of them. Caity washed up on shore yesterday and the boys have been missing," said Sandy Shoaf, the mother of James Smith.
The body of Jones, 17, was discovered Wednesday, and the body of Smith, 16, was found today, said Jesus Escalona, spokesman for the Costa Rican Red Cross. When reached by phone, Smith's family was not aware that his body had been found and identified. The American Embassy had made them aware this morning that a second body had been found but had not told them the identity of the body, Shoaf said.
"He's a great kid. He lived his life for Jesus from the minute he woke up in the morning until the minute he went to sleep at night. He wanted to be a youth pastor and he was in Costa Rica on his first mission trip," Shoaf said fighting back tears.
Shoaf's husband and the family's pastor are en route to Costa Rica searching for answers about their son. All 12 of the people on the missionary trip were set to return tonight. They had been in Costa Rica for about a week, Shoaf said.
"They were going to orphanages and handing out toys and books and crayons to kids and helping build a church," she said.
In between sobs, the mother described her son as an avid guitar player who had been planning for his first missionary trip since September of last year.
Jones' uncle said they are planning her funeral and making arrangements to have her body flown back to Ohio.
"She was just an amazing young lady...Her heart was to help people, to help kids," said the uncle, Scott Jones. He said his niece was a high school junior with a 4.0 GPA.
The dead girl's father, Todd Jones, is a teacher at Patriot Preparatory Academy and knew all of the teens on the trip well, Scott Jones said.
"Todd is my older brother. He's strong…but you don't expect to have to plan a funeral for your daughter," Scott Jones said.
Kai Lamar, 16, is the teen who is still missing.
Twenty-five Red Cross rescue workers are continuing the search today, said Escalona, aided by two Costa Rican Coast Guard vessels and two police aircraft.
The U.S. Coast Guard has pledged to support the search effort and a boat is expected to reach the area later today, he said.
Drownings have long been a problem on Costa Rica's beaches, resulting from a lack of trained lifeguards. Some 47 people have drowned already this year, according to the Red Cross.