The community is rallying around the families of two Wake Forest High School seniors who were caught in heavy surf off Emerald Isle on Friday, resulting in the death of one teen and the other being in critical condition in a Greenville hospital.
After a weekend of searching, police reported Monday that they had found Ian Frazier Lewis, 18, at 3:30 a.m. in the area of the 2800 block of the Emerald Isle Beach Strand, according to a news release.
Witnesses on the beach Friday reported losing sight of Lewis and Mary Paige Merical, 17, of Raleigh, at about the 9300 block of the strand. Surf conditions Friday were extremely rough, according to police, with waves reported at 6 to 9 feet and a water temperature of 62 degrees.
Rescuers were able to reach Merical, known as Paige, and pulled her from the water to get medical attention. She was transported to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville. The hospital reported Monday that she is in critical condition.
The focus has turned now toward helping both grieving families. A vigil has been scheduled for Tuesday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Joyner Park in Wake Forest. GoFundMe fundraisers have been established for each student’s families.
“The way that the community has rallied around them, I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Meredith Jarrell, Merical’s first cousin, in an interview with The News & Observer.
She established a GoFundMe page for the family on Monday before heading to Greenville to join relatives who were holding vigil for Merical at the hospital. The fundraiser, called Prayers for Paige, had raised $1,800 in four hours at gofundme.com/jtks52-prayers-for-paige.
“People all over the world are praying for them,” said Jarrell, who lives in Raleigh. “It gives us some hope that there’s a miracle around the corner.”
More than $6,700 had been raised for Lewis at gofundme.com/green-for-ian by Monday afternoon. As part of the effort, “Live For Ian” bracelets are being created to honor Lewis.
“Ian was loved by so many people and he was so selfless,” said Emilie Boyd, 16, a Rolesville High junior, in an interview with The News & Observer.
She created the GoFundMe campaign for Lewis to honor her “best friend.”
“He would do anything for anyone,” Boyd said Monday. “I just want to keep that going.”
Boyd recalled Lewis as a person who lived life to the fullest, wearing a Jimmy Buffett shirt and Hawaiian shorts. She said he went to Emerald Isle to spend part of spring break with some friends at a beach house.
“I want people to live the way Ian always wanted us to live — happy and wild, doing everything we loved,” she said.
Everyone knew Lewis for his long hair, Boyd said, which at one point stretched to his ribcage. She said he called it Maximus, after the character from the “Lion King.”
Lewis and Boyd planned to go to prom together. Lewis, a member of a North Carolina FC Youth soccer team, asked Boyd to the prom in the middle of a soccer game. After scoring at a game March 31, he stopped the action to grab a sign from his mother, asking Boyd to the prom. (An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the team that Lewis was playing on.)
They first planned to attend Wake Forest High’s prom on Saturday. The following weekend, they were planning to go to her Rolesville High prom.
“Ian and I both were really excited for prom,” she said. “We couldn’t wait to go together. We had such big plans for it.”
Merical has a hard fight ahead of her. Jarrell said Merical might have been underwater for 12 to 14 minutes without oxygen for much of that time.
“We are just praying that she survives at this point,” Jarrell said. “She’s extremely critical. She’s fighting.”
John Merical, Paige’s father wrote on the Wake Forest Community Information Facebook page, “My little girl is a fighter. She is loved by so many. The greatest honor in my life is being known as Paige’s Dad!!!!”
The accident comes as Merical is months away from graduating. Jarrell said her cousin is bright, courageous and stubborn and has plans to go to college.
“She’s just been a joy to our entire family,” Jarrell said. “There are no words to describe what her parents are going through. It’s hard because we feel lucky to have her, regardless of the condition because we can still pray for her.”