HOOD RIVER — A Clark County, Wash., youth pastor is now remembered as a hero for helping save lives just before he and an 11-year-old participant drowned here the evening of Aug. 5 in a youth outing turned tragic.
As reported extensively by Portland-area media, both Andy Inskeep, 44, youth pastor at Ridgefield (Wash.) Church of the Nazarene, and Brandan Raley died at the Marina Beach sandbar near where the Columbia and Hood Rivers meet. Raley’s family attends Woodland (Wash.) Christian Church, but the boy had joined a friend from the Ridgefield church on the outing.
Inskeep and Raley were with 15 teens and six youth sponsors at the time. Seeking to beat the heat before dinner, the group went to a huge sandbar where water was about knee deep. Some of the students stepped onto a shelf of sand that began to give way under their feet. While some of them were able to get to safety, four were struggling and began to be pulled under the water by a strong undertow.
Inskeep and Shaun Martin, a youth volunteer, tried to get the youths to safety and students also began helping one another, with some pulling others farther from the deep water and others keeping them from going back in the water to help. Four students ran to call 911.
A nearby windsurfer was enlisted to help and he first made his way to Inskeep, who told him instead to aid another student who was going under water quickly. The windsufer was able to lift that student to safety.
Meanwhile, Martin swam toward Raley and put the boy on his back and wrapped his arms around the boy’s torso and arms. But the two were overwhelmed by the undertow, and Martin saw that Raley was no longer breathing and had gone limp. Martin himself began to drown, but nevertheless thrust Raley into the air, hoping the force would help the boy breathe again. But losing conciousness himself, Martin involuntarily let go of Raley. In shock, Martin eventually made it to safety.
In addition to Hood River County Sheriff’s deputies, boaters, kite surfers and jet skiers soon joined in the search for Inskeep and Raley, who remained missing. As the weeping students waited for answers, strangers began to come over and comfort and pray with them, as did deputies and rescue workers.
Within an hour, an individual on the Washington side of the Columbia reported someone floating near the mouth of the White Salmon River. Raley’s body was pulled from the water and life-saving efforts began on the boat, but he was later pronounced dead at a Hood River hospital.
The following evening, Inskeep’s body was recovered. Boaters located his body near milepost 54 on Washington state Highway 14, more than nine miles from where he had gone into the water.
The boy’s parents, Jim and Kris Raley, have two other children. They said Brandon, who would have turned 12 Aug. 11, gave his life to Jesus at age 5 and that he had a deep love for God as well as people.
Inskeep worked as a youth pastor in Indiana, Virginia and Kansas, and also as a lead pastor in Colville, Wash., before joining the Ridgefield church staff. He also was a basketball coach at View Ridge Middle School. He was known as humble, kind and compassionate and had a passion to lead teens to Christ. His wife, Maria, noted that he was doing what he loved most — teaching teens about Jesus and saving them not only spiritually, but even physically, in his last moments.
A memorial service for Inskeep was held Aug. 23 in Wabash, Ind. A memorial scholarship fund has been set up by the Ridgefield church and is online at https://pushpay.com/g/ridgenaz?src=hpp or through a GoFundMe page at https://gf.me/u/ynjry2. A fund also has been set up to benefit the Raley family. Donations can be sent in the family’s name to Woodland Christian Church, 430 Buckeye St, Woodland, Wash. 98674, or through a GoFundMe page at https://gf.me/u/ynjry2