Counselor, teen drown at falls during youth camp
TYGH VALLEY — A teenager and an adult counselor, both attending a youth camp here organized by a Camas, Wash., church, drowned last month in an accident during the event.
Family and friends said both exemplified young lives completely devoted to Jesus Christ.
The incident happened July 9 at the main falls of the White River Falls day use area, about four miles east of Tygh Valley in Oregon’s Wasco County.
Jonathan Brett McLean, 26, of Portland, and Caleb Justice, 15, of Vancouver, Wash., died after they slipped on wet rock by the falls and fell into the cold, turbulent water about 2 p.m. The Wasco County Sheriff’s Office told area media that the two drowned despite rescue efforts by bystanders who threw ropes to the pair.
According to some reports, both slipped and fell in the water at the same time; other reports were that McLean dove in to help Justice out of the water.
The camp, Experience the Valley, comprises about 150 staff and high school students from several churches in the Portland and Vancouver area. It is coordinated by River Rock Church, which operates in both Camas and east Vancouver, Wash.
Memorial service for McLean was held July 21 at New Hope Community Church in Happy Valley. Memorial service for Justice was July 20 at Life Point Church in Vancouver.
“They both loved the Lord and their passion for Jesus was evident in their lives,” said a statement from River Rock staff on the church’s Facebook site. “We’re confident that while they have been taken from us they are now in God’s hands … Our hearts are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of two precious lives, and we will continue to pray and support their families through this ordeal.”
Lane McGill, chief deputy with the sheriff’s office, said the two were walking on the rocks at the northern end of the pool, about 4 to 6 feet above the water. Shawn Justice, Caleb’s father, told Christian News Northwest that McLean was shooting video for the camp and wanted to take some around the falls, and that Caleb, who his father described as a “real rockhound,” wanted to explore the base of the falls.
Mark Angel, a diver from Redmond who worked to retrieve the two bodies the following day, told KATU Channel 2 that the fast-moving water in the pool creates a suction that holds people in. He said there have been other drownings at the same location.
Justice attended the East Vancouver campus of River Rock Church, and McLean was volunteering for Harvest Community Church in Camas. The River Rock church in Camas and Harvest Community Church both held special prayer sessions for the victims’ families.
A feature story July 11 in The Oregonian focused on the life of McLean, a Portland Christian High School graduate. His mother, Christie McLean, told the newspaper that her son had a strong devotion to Jesus Christ, a charismatic, energetic and funny personality and a special gift of working with children.
She said Brett, the youngest of her three sons, returned to Portland about two years after living briefly in California. He helped in the children’s ministry with the southeast Portland Door of Hope church while working three part-time jobs.
She said it was only recently that he had spoken with a friend about what it would be like someday to see Jesus. She said she now pictures her son dancing in Heaven.
One of four children of Shawn and Sara Justice of Vancouver, Caleb was a student at Vancouver Christian High School, which closed permanently this summer,, and would have attended Firm Foundation Christian School in Vancouver this fall.
Paul Ireland, Justice’s pastor at River Rock, told KATU that the boy had a passion for Jesus and had a sweet personality. He said Justice was a “great kid” and a joy to be around.
Shawn Justice said his son “had a heart for God” and loved “talking to people and sharing God’s love.”
“As a father, I couldn’t be prouder of him, the way he lived his life,” Justice said, his voice cracking. Justice said the outpouring of love and concern to his family has been overwhelming. He said it has come not only from the various churches that participated in the youth camp, but from the wider Christian community.
“Countless people have been praying for us, and we have been comforted,” he said. “We saw how God prepared our hearts for this through the past few months. God just gave us a real sense of peace.”
He said testimonies of Caleb’s deep faith and the impact that the teen’s life had on others have been widely disseminated since the tragedy.
“He would be so excited about what God is doing even after he has gone to be with the Lord,” said Justice.