Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Part 2

*WARNING: This is a true story told from my own perspective. It may be difficult to read as I've included some very specific details. The name of the man can be found in many news articles but I chose not to include it in my retelling of the story.

Day 3
The screaming continued. Alicia and I ran down a gravel path closest to our campsite that, unbeknownst to me, led right to a small lake. I thought eventually the screams were going to stop because someone would be helping the woman, but instead it continued and got louder as we got closer. Once we reached the rocky shore I could see E standing knee deep in the water screaming “HELP ME!” but there was something else she was saying. I stopped and tried to process what was happening. My first thought was that E was stuck. From the angle I was looking at her I thought she possibly sunk down in rock or mud and couldn't move. She was pointing at the water so I followed her direction and saw something small and white floating on the surface. Was it a hat? It couldn't be a person. My heart was racing but what she was yelling wasn't processing in my brain. “HELP ME! MY HUSBAND!” Wait, What? As I looked around the lake I saw only a few people but no one appeared to have any urgency. Still confused I started running again. Once I reached E there were a few people that had now made their way over. There was a bigger man in swim shorts standing to E's left, an older woman, and two younger girls in bathing suits. E kept screaming and the older woman was trying to calm her down. I started to get in the water but the man in shorts kept saying, "It's too cold. It's too cold. You can't go in." I finally looked directly into E's eyes and asked, "Is you husband in there?" as I pointed to where I then realized a dog was floating. She said yes.  I couldn't stand there knowing W was in that lake somewhere but then I thought I heard someone say it was just the dog.

What was going on? Was W really in the lake while we all just stood there. "I can't just stand here. Why isn't anyone doing anything?" I said. One of the girls got in the water and started swimming towards the dog. Thinking she was going to grab the dog and continue looking for W I got in the water and took the dog from her. She said thank you but didn't turn back. I climbed out with the lifeless dog in my hand. From the way it's eyes were bulging out of its head and its teeth were clenched together I was pretty sure the dog was gone. I'd never rescued an animal before so I really had no idea what to do. I know basic CPR for humans but not dogs. I started to squeeze its rib cage together hoping I could possibly help in some way. A man approached me, cupped one hand around the dogs nose and mouth, and began to blow. There was foam coming out of the dogs nose so the man wiped it away and gave a few more breaths. I'm not sure if the man told me it was too late but after a few minutes I was standing alone. I didn't know what to do. Do I put the dog on the rocks? Will someone take it from me? I must have continued compressing as I looked around for someone to tell me what to do. When I looked back down there was blood oozing out of the dogs nose and mouth. Then I noticed it was twitching. Was that involuntary movement or was this dog actually still alive? I turned to a woman who had said she was a nurse and asked her what to do. She took the small dog and placed her ear to its chest. "There's no heartbeat. Its gone." I softly laid the dog down on the rocks and turned back towards the lake. A few more people had arrived but no official emergency personnel. There were three men in kayaks, a ranger/police officer, and more bystanders. The ranger was in the water holding on to the end of one kayak asking for a PFD (personal floatation device). Once he finally got one he asked for goggles, a mason jar, or drinking glass to look down in the water. Nothing was readily available of course. The ranger station didn't even have basic water rescue equipment. So it was a mad scramble for Alicia and a few others to run through the campground asking people for anything that could help. The ranger asked for a second PFD because the one he had wasn't working. He had mentioned a few times that he was cold.

At some point while this was going on a woman approached and loudly announced that she had seen the whole thing. I heard her explain that W had tossed the dog in the water. When E started yelling for someone to help her dog this woman refused because "they threw the dog in themselves". So this woman and her husband told W and E to get their own dog and walked away.

Only one person, the ranger, was actually in the water and he couldn't even get a proper PFD. Finally when he requested a third PFD I asked if I could take the one he had on. I told him I was a firefighter and a strong swimmer. He handed me the PFD so I quickly put it on and got into the water. I quickly realized that the water was so clear you could see down to the 30' bottom. This lake had a quick drop off to 20', then 30', and at its deepest it was 60'. There was a slight current around the area where W went in. Not enough to make a person struggle but I think their small dog could've been caught in it.

Two male campers were getting in the water with kid goggles. I got my hands on a pair but shortly after one of the men very rudely said, "You have a PFD on and the goggles. Give someone else the goggles if you're not going to dive down." I told him I could dive down but I could see from above and there was nothing to dive down for. I gave him the goggles and kept looking on my own. A few minutes later a ranger told anyone without a PFD to get out of the water. This included the two who now had the goggles and sounded Canadian. They started arguing about how they were the only two with the goggles so they shouldn't be the ones getting kicked out. They said they would swim at their own risk. The ranger who had been in the water was now on a paddle board and very irritated. He yelled at the men telling them he was a cop and he'd cuff and arrest them if they didn't get out of the water. I tried to focus on the search so I kept my eyes on the bottom of the lake. Once I got closer to the ranger/cop he apologized to me for yelling at the men. He said we didn't need to rescue anyone else. I told him all he needed to say at that point was this was a recovery not a rescue. The man had been down too long and there was no sight of him.

A lady started yelling that she could see something floating in the water. We knew there was a pair of sandals floating around but the kayakers paddled over to the spot just to be sure.

After a bit I didn't see the ranger or the Canadians so I was the only one in the water with the kayakers. Why was I the only one in the water? I started to pray for a sign, show anyone a sign. I wanted God to help us find him. I didn't want W in that water. I didn't want E going through the night not knowing where her husband was in that lake. I thought of my own husband and how devastated I would be if it had been him in that lake. "God just please let us find him." I prayed over and over.

They had cleared the area. There were two ambulances in the parking lot that took 30-45 minutes just to get to Two Medicine. There didn't seem to be any sense of urgency though. I heard Alicia ask one of the kayakers to check on me because I was a "stubborn old mule". I told him I was fine and we continued to talk for a few minutes. He told me he was a registered diver but there was no gear available for him to use. 

They had called for their dive team and a helicopter for medical assistance but no one was coming. Two policemen were walking along the shore and I heard them trying to figure out why no one was coming to help. They asked me something and I just said I was fine and that I was a firefighter, hoping they wouldn't kick me out. The one chuckled and said he knew how that went. "We walk in the door and say "I'm a cop I have this under control." So I know how stubborn you can be." I assured them I was fine and I was on my way out because my fingers were starting to go numb. I explained that the current where I was swimming was a bit stronger and that may have pulled the man out further. The cop told me to stop swimming and just float. I did as he told me and began floating back out. He asked me how many knots I was going "Do you think 2?" I had no idea. I wasn't a Navy Seal. I kept swimming slowly against the current and finally the cop motioned for me to get out. Alicia brought me a towel and I slowly walked on the sharp rocks up to where the ranger was getting a statement from the witness who claimed to have seen it all happen. 

Emily had brought our rental vehicle and was waiting patiently on a bench by the parking lot facing the lake. She told Alicia and I to take our time and there was no rush for her to get back. I bent my knees and squatted down beside her. I could feel my chest getting tight as I began to feel an anxiety attack coming. All of the anger and sadness was about to start flowing but I knew I had to hold it together. Alicia said I needed to go to our site and change so I just turned and started walking. 

This is what I heard from the eyewitness. W and E were by the water when W threw their dog in. No one knows why he did this. E thought the dog was struggling and started yelling for someone to help. No one would help and the witness told them to get their own dog since they were the ones who threw it in. The witness left to go up to her car. By the time the witness had turned to come back down the small embankment to the lake W was in the water holding the dog above his head with both hands. W went under 3 times and never resurfaced. 

Here's what I think happened. Both W and E couldn't swim so they were trying to find someone who could rescue their dog. There weren't many people around so W thought he had no other choice but to go in himself. He thought that he could possibly walk out on the rocks (perhaps with his hiking shoes on) because there was a shallow section of rock along the shoreline. He more than likely hit the 20' drop-off and grabbed the dog. Without being able to swim and/or holding the dog with both hands W couldn't stay afloat.

I was sad and angry. I kept thinking of everything I could have done or should have done. I was mad that no one was willing to help them. I was mad the park didn't have basic equipment to assist. I was mad that I wasn't there. I was mad that W risked his life for that dog. I was mad that these two people who were probably very intelligent were utterly clueless. We failed him and most of all we failed her. His wife watched us all stand around and do nothing.

I changed into dry clothes and couldn't wait to get far away from that campground. We briefly spoke to Jim and Robin before leaving to bring Emily back. My birthday was the next day so Alicia said she wanted to bring me out for a nice supper at the lodge. I didn't think I'd even want to eat but then I realized I was actually pretty hungry. We tried not to talk much about what had happened what it was impossible not to. We contemplated staying at the lodge that night so we wouldn't have to sleep at Two Medicine again. We had to go back because our stuff was there. Plus, I wanted to say goodbye to Jim and Robin and I wanted to make sure E was being taken care of.

I didn't want my birthday to come. My birthday was suppose to be epic and jam packed with fun adventures. I wouldn't have put up much of a fight if I had to go home at that point. I knew the trip 
wouldn't be same.

We enjoyed our meal that didn't consist of granola bars. I was all about trying everything huckleberry and although I rarely drink alcohol I wanted to try the Huckleberry Margarita and Huckleberry bread pudding. Brain freeze but the desert was delicious!

Huckleberry Bread Pudding
After supper we returned to our campsite to try and get some sleep. Alicia decided she was going to sleep in the van for the rest of our trip (mom's on vacation and we get stuck with a minivan). Yahtzee a tent to myself! So, our plan for my birthday was to pack up early, head to St. Mary's campground where we would hopefully get a site, then drive the Going to the Sun Road all day. I needed a low key day.

Pray Lake

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