Mad River Newspaper Guild
HUMBOLDT – Three family members died Saturday, Nov. 24, after they were swept into the ocean at Big Lagoon while trying to rescue their dog, and then each other.
Two of the deceased were identified by the Humboldt County Coroner on Monday as Freshwater residents Mary Scott, 54, and Howard Kuljian, 50. As of press time, their son – 16-year-old Gregory “Geddie” Kuljian – was still missing.
They are survived by daughter Olivia, 18.
The family was at the beach Saturday afternoon. They were playing stick with their dog when the family pet reportedly got swept out into the ocean by 10-foot waves. The beach at Big Lagoon has a steep dropoff.
Sean Ledwin, a biologist with the Hoopa Valley Tribe, was walking on the beach at the same time, witnessed the sequence of events and described what happened in a statement to the Times-Standard.
He said the Kuljians' dog had been chasing a stick and got caught up in the surf when Geddie went to rescue him. He too was swept up in the roiling waves, and his father, Howard, went in after him. He too was engulfed in surf.
Minutes later, Mary attempted to reach Howard, who was close to the shore, and was swept in.
Ledwin's girlfriend had called 911, and provided updates as the family members became lost in the waves.
Daughter Olivia, a friend, Ledwin and his girlfriend were unable to approach the victims due to the violent surf.
The roiling waves carried the victims toward the shore and then back out to sea in what Ledwin described as a circular motion.
A police officer arrived, and Mary was pulled ashore. Resuscitation attempts failed. Howard's body eventually washed ashore to the north.
The dog emerged from the surf uninjured.
Coast Guard Lt. Bernie Garrigan said the first call came in at 12:40 p.m. Two 47-foot motor lifeboats and a search and rescue helicopter were deployed to the area.
The Coast Guard uses a computer program to manage searches. A data marker buoy is launched to track drift, and the search is conducted with constantly updated data.
Rescuers were able to retrieve both the parents’ bodies. The Coast Guard searched for Geddie by boat and helicopter. The search was suspended at 6:45 p.m. due to heavy fog.
At Arcata High today, students wore green to honor the memory of Geddie, who enjoyed nature and greenery. "When I look outside, that's all I see," he was known to say.
Grieving students recalled their lost friend. "That's why we're wearing green today, he wouldn't want us to be wearing black," said one. "He'd rather have us celebrate his life then have us mourn over it," said another.
AHS junior Ian Johnson counted Geddie among his best friends. "He was the greatest person I ever knew," Johnson said. "If you didn't know him, you wish you did."
Geddie's interests included art and music, and he was on the AHS track team for two years. "His family was at the beach all the time," Johnson said.
Johnson said Kuljian "always had a kind word for everyone, and his parents were just as nice. They gave hospitality to everyone."
– McKinleyville Press Editor Jack Durham, Arcata High School Pepperbox Editor Forrest Lewis and Eye Editor Kevin Hoover contributed to this story.