Sonoma Coast search continues for missing children as their father and a Southern California educator ID’d as drowning victims
The sun set Monday over the Pacific Ocean for the second time with no sign of two missing Petaluma children, lost a day before when they and their parents were swept off their feet by the powerful ocean surge on the Sonoma Coast.
Their father, Michael Wyman, 40, drowned in the Sunday afternoon incident at Blind Beach, leaving their mother to mourn the loss of her entire immediate family, including her 4-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter.
A relative said she had loved ones at her side but was not able to speak publicly of her loss. The family had moved from Oakland to Petaluma only a few months ago.
It was the second of two fateful weekend encounters with rough ocean conditions on the North Coast.
Family members of Rancho Cucamonga educator David Reyes Juarez were similarly overwhelmed after his death Saturday in turbulent water off the Mendocino Headlands, friends and colleagues said.
Juarez, 45, was visiting the area with his family when he fell or was swept off low rocks near the water as his horrified loved ones watched.
A longtime elementary school principal recently promoted to assistant director of special education for the San Bernardino City Unified School District, he was described as “a real boots-on-the-ground type of principal, very approachable, open door policy.”
“He had a heart for helping all students, but David was fully bilingual, so he had a special place in his heart for English learners, because he was an English learner, so he really worked hard on behalf of those students — whether advocating for during management meetings or meeting with parents,” said Maria Garcia, district communications officer.
Wyman, said a family friend, had moved with his family a few months ago to Petaluma in search of more open space and a simpler, more rural life as the coronavirus pandemic dragged on.
“Those kids were just so sweet and really funny,” the friend said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Michael was just such a sweet man. It’s just tragic. It’s just awful.”
California State Park personnel said the family was visiting the beach south of Goat Rock and Jenner during several days of large swells that made the ocean perilous for visitors.
Park rangers had even locked the gate down to the large Goat Rock Beach parking lots at least a day earlier given the risks, though the entrance to the smaller parking lot above Blind Beach remained open for those willing to make a steep hike down the bluff trail and back up again, State Park Ranger Sgt. Tim Murphy said.
Though more sandy than rocky, Blind Beach remained a danger zone — the wave surge extending high up the beach, with substantial power to sweep up people with it during its retreat, especially in steep areas, he said.
“For small children, fully clothed, it’s obviously very dangerous,” Murphy said.
Murphy said the ocean requires vigilance, always, but the big seasonal swells that come during winter can be most dangerous, especially with high tides and rocky coastlines. And though it’s commonly imagined that outsiders are more likely to fall victim, he said that tragedy has befallen local residents.
It remained unclear Monday what the Petaluma family was doing and where they were in relation to the water when they were knocked over and dragged into to the surf about 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
Wyman reportedly had a hold of one of his children at one point but lost his grasp before both were sucked into the waves. Bystanders helped his wife, who clambered to safety, to pull Wyman from the water.
They attempted to revive him before emergency personnel arrived and took over, but the children had disappeared.
Supervising Sonoma Coast Ranger Damien Jones said Monday that rangers walked the entire stretch of Blind Beach and Goat Rock Beach on Monday morning and patrolled the bluff throughout the day. The Sonoma County sheriff’s helicopter crew also found a long enough break in the weather to fly the area in search of the children, without success.
“We will keep looking,” Murphy said.
Juarez and his family on Saturday were taking photos in an area of the Mendocino promontory facing the wave-battered the rocks when he climbed down the rocky bluff face, closer to the water and was suddenly plunged into the water, public safety personnel said.
The ocean was extremely rough in the area, and family members reported that they could see he was unconscious in the water when they called for help, authorities said.
A state park lifeguard who was less than one minute away was guided to the site by two of Juarez’s sons and spotted Juarez as he lay face down in the water. It would be almost an hour before the lifeguard and four Mendocino firefighters on jet skis were able to get a good enough fix on him in the frothing water to secure him and bring him ashore. Efforts to revive him were not successful.
Garcia said Juarez was “an exceptional man,” and recalled one occasion, long ago, when he was working yard duty as an assistant principal and observed a toddler at the unscreened window of a multistory apartment complex nearby. When he ran to the window, the child tumbled out, right into his arms, unharmed.
He was fully dedicated to his students, she said.
“You know when people become get into principal/leadership positions, they’re hardworking people. Everybody knows that. But David was hardworking times two. But everything he did was with so much joy and so much pleasure.”
You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.