‘Pain, despair were all we could bear’

In April 1993, we received word that I had been accepted as a faculty member at BYU-Hawaii. Last August, we moved to Laie, Hawaii, and I began teaching in the School of Business.

Our children, Preston, 15; Matthew, 13; Jonathan, 11; and Starlyn, 9; were a bit unsure of our new life in Laie, but quickly found that being able to enjoy the weather and beach had its advantages over winters in New York and Utah. I loved every minute of my work and was able to spend more time with my family. In short, life was wonderful.Before Feb. 11, the Blazers and Scouts had spent a lot of time preparing for a campout in the mountains above Laie. One of the purposes of this campout was to finalize plans for Matthew's Eagle project, which was to be a major cleanup and improvement of this particular campground. This campout was especially significant for Jonathan as it was his first "official" Scout overnighter. An excerpt from his journal, dated Thursday, Feb. 3, reads: "So I did my homework, then went to Scouts. We planned a lot of our campout which is one week from tomorrow. . . . I can't wait for our campout, my first Scout overnighter."

Jonathan's older brothers and I spent a couple of days helping him get organized and packed for this big event. We said goodbye to Matthew and Jonathan Friday afternoon, Feb. 11. The events of that night and the following day and every day since have forever changed our lives.

Winter in Hawaii mainly means more than normal amounts of rainfall. It began raining during the night, and I remember waking and telling my wife, Paulette, that I was worried and would be glad when the boys were back home.

I went to campus that morning to take care of some odds and ends. About 9 a.m. the telephone rang at home. Paulette was glad to hear it as she thought it meant that the boys were out of the mountains and waiting at the Church to be picked up. Her heart ached as Matthew told her, in a very brave voice, that Jonathan had been swept downstream. In the background she could hear the sound of rescue vehicles. She met me at the office and we hurriedly drove to the parking area at the bottom of the trail leading to the campsite. We arrived only to find that they had not yet found Jonathan. With heavy hearts, we began the climb up the mountain. Two brave and helpful Scouts showed us the way up the stream.

I crossed the swift moving, engorged stream on a pipe to keep looking for Jonathan, while Paulette stayed and looked on the other side. Later, she saw the rescue helicopter arrive, go farther upstream, hover, and then leave with Jonathan in its rescue basket. Paulette arrived at the hospital before I did, and only moments before they brought Jonathan in on the stretcher. She saw his face all bruised and pale. At that time, she knew in her heart that he was gone, but her hopes trusted in the skills of the doctors.

Matthew and I arrived shortly after, and we clung to each other. A few minutes later a doctor told us that Jonathan was dead. A neighbor brought Preston and Starlyn to the hospital. We gathered together and wept at our intense loss. A few minutes later, we were allowed to see Jonathan. Our pain and despair were all that we could bear. The last earthly thing I did for Jonathan was to comb his hair. It was full of sand and grit.

Our hearts were broken. He was so full of life, so excited for his chance to finally go camping as a Scout. This was something he had waited for, the chance to be like his big brothers.

Later, we learned that one of his Scout leaders had been able to hold onto him for a few seconds, but Jonathan was wrenched from his grip by the torrent of water and debris. Another leader fought his way through the rocks and debris toward Jonathan. He found him 300 yards downstream. After pulling him and his pack from the water, he climbed a tree to attract the helicopter. Then he climbed back down, grabbed Jonathan and his pack and climbed back up the tree to put him into the rescue basket. This wonderful brother and leader was found later beside the river, nearly unconscious from his exertions. When we saw him at Church the next day, he could hardly walk from his bruises and injuries. We hugged him and wept with him in gratitude for his efforts to save Jonathan.

Did Jonathan suffer long? Who was there to meet him on the other side? Is he OK? Will we be OK? Where can we receive comfort? This comfort came – and comes – from our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost. It comes through answered prayers and from our brothers and sisters here in Hawaii and from family and friends on the mainland. When we walked out of the hospital that morning, many caring and loving friends were there to comfort us. They hugged us, cried with us and took some of our pain upon themselves.

On Feb. 12, these two totally opposite, yet connected events took place. Jonathan left us and our hearts were broken, whereupon our brothers and sisters here in Laie immediately came forward and rescued us. Heavenly Father may have Jonathan, but we have the encompassing love and support of our ward and community.

Jonathan's funeral was Saturday, Feb. 19. The first portion of the funeral was a court of honor to posthumously award to Paulette and me Jonathan's Tenderfoot Badge and other awards he had earned previous to and on this campout. Many Scouts, young and old, in uniform attended this court of honor and the funeral. Among others, three of Jonathan's close friends and fellow Blazers spoke during the funeral. This was a heart-rending and heart-mending time. After the funeral, Scouts from several wards preceded, on foot, the hearse to the Laie Cemetery. The pall bearers including Matthew and Preston, and all past or present Scouts, in uniform, followed the hearse. This display of love and respect for Jonathan, centered around Scouting, was one of the most emotional times of this entire experience.

The acts of love done for us have been overwhelming. Our ward, led by Bishop Fonua Lauaki, has treated us as if we have lived here forever, rather than just a few months. We believe that Heavenly Father brought us to Hawaii for varied and special reasons, one of which was to surround us with people who are capable of the level of charity and love needed to mend a broken heart.

As we left the hospital, I went to pick up the pack Jonathan was wearing. It was wet and filthy from the flood. A neighbor family said they would take care of it. A few days later, it was returned to us. It and all of Jonathan's clothes and equipment had been washed and cleaned. The Relief Society and others immediately started bringing in meals. Our refrigerator and freezer were quickly filled.

When we got home from the hospital, we sat and talked and cried and then knelt around Jonathan's bed and prayed for him and for ourselves. A dear neighbor somehow seemed to know of this and she stayed outside our door while we wanted and needed to be alone. She kept all distractions and interruptions away to give us a few minutes to ourselves. Later that night, she provided the same service and also took all telephone calls while our bishopric and stake president gave each of us a blessing.

We were blessed with visits from many members of the BYU "family," from my students, from students in Paulette's classes (she is a full-time student), from Jonathan's, Starlyn's, Preston's and Matthew's school classes, from ward and community members. We received dozens of beautiful flowers and plants. One individual, who is not a member of the Church but lives in Laie and has a son in Jonathan's class, owns a limousine service. She provided a vehicle to pick up relatives who came from the mainland for the funeral. All of the students in Jonathan's and Starlyn's classes wrote us letters about him. From these, we learned that he could be trusted, always included the unpopular children at play, and was never unkind to anyone. This gave us a picture of his school life that we might not otherwise have known.

Jonathan's accident was well covered by the television and print media here in Hawaii. They helped publicize the fact that we were encouraging people to send donations – rather than flowers – to a special fund. This was set up to make improvements to the trail campsite where Jonathan was killed. It was set up as an Eagle Scout Project Fund wherein Scouts could use the money to do Eagle Projects to make these needed improvements. Many people contributed to this, as have many troops and Cub Scout packs.

Not long after the accident, a regional conference was held in Laie. Elder John H. Groberg of the Seventy, who is our area president, and then-Presiding Bishop Robert D. Hales, now of the Council of the Twelve, were our visiting General Authorities. They invited us to a personal visit with them before conference. They shared words of comfort and caring with us. Later in the conference, Elder Groberg commented that children like Jonathan were indeed righteous and prepared to be called home. Elder Groberg's words were inspired.

On March 12, exactly one month after Jonathan was killed, Matthew did his Eagle project. More than 40 members of our ward, young and old, hiked to the campsite and spent many hours cleaning up the area. It was the first time back for any of those involved in the Feb. 12 campout. Preston and I were there also to support Matthew and to see where the flash flood took away our dear Jonathan. It was not a sad day. We were a group of brothers united in purpose and in the spirit of physical support of Matthew and in respect and love for Jonathan. It was a wonderful day, a day of healing and closeness.

No day passes for Paulette and me without many thoughts of and a few tears for Jonathan. I have his scriptures and pictures in my office. We have filled a wall at home with mementos of him representing all his varied interests, including Scouting, school, sports and Church. Jonathan is temporarily, but only physically, separated from us. Paulette and I were sealed in the Washington Temple. We are an eternal family. If we live worthily, we will again be together. Many scriptures have been emphasized in our minds since Feb. 12. We like the brief passage from Psalm 46:10, "Be still, and know that I am God." We know and testify that John 14:18, "I will not leave you comfortless. I will come to you," is absolutely true. We have not been left alone.

We know it is sometimes hard for those around us to know how to approach us or whether or not to ever mention Jonathan and the circumstances of his death. Our message to all is that when those around you experience a tragedy, do for them what has been done for us. Go to them, talk to them, sit with them, bring them a picture or a book or a poem. Write them a letter. Call them. Give them strong, frequent hugs. At times like this we need to be surrounded by human contact and love. Lastly, we would say to all, do not stop doing any of the above just because a few days or weeks or months have passed. Let those in need know that they and their anguish are not forgotten. Be part of the healing that comes with time by being steadfast in your love and support.