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Drowning victim ‘called to heaven.’ Family says her brain is ‘too severely damaged.’

Parents of Paige Merical honor her life

John and Suzi Merical, the parents of Wake Forest High School student Paige Merical, who got caught in a rip current while swimming in Emerald Isle while on spring break, held a ceremony on Friday to honor their daughter's life.
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John and Suzi Merical, the parents of Wake Forest High School student Paige Merical, who got caught in a rip current while swimming in Emerald Isle while on spring break, held a ceremony on Friday to honor their daughter's life.

A swimming accident off the Outer Banks will claim its second fatality, with the family of a 17-year-old Wake Forest High School student planning to remove her from life support after she suffered too much brain damage.

Mary Paige Merical, 17, and Ian Frazier Lewis, 18, were caught in a rip current off Emerald Isle on Friday afternoon. Lewis’ body was recovered Monday. Merical, who goes by Paige, was rescued, but her family members posted on Facebook on Wednesday night that they plan to remove her from life support and donate her organs to help others.

“Paige fought a tough fight, but her brain was too severely damaged,” John Merical, Paige’s father, wrote on Facebook. “We get to love on my baby for the next few days, with organ donation Saturday. Paige was a big supporter of this.

“Please consider being a donor. By next week Paige will live on thru others.”

Merical and Lewis, both seniors at Wake Forest High, were at Emerald Isle last week for spring break. They were only two months away from graduating.

Emilie Boyd will be going to prom without Ian Frazier Lewis, who disappeared under dangerous surf conditions at Emerald Isle on Friday and his body was recovered Monday morning. His friend Mary Paige Merical was rescued and is in critical condition.

The friends were swimming when they were caught in the rough surf Friday afternoon. Rescuers were able to reach Merical, but Lewis was swept away.

Merical was transported to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville. Meredith Jarrell, Paige’s first cousin, previously told the N&O that Merical might have been underwater for 12 to 14 minutes without oxygen for much of that time.

The family had been praying for a miracle for Paige to recover.

“This has been a heartbreaking battle, but it appears Paige has been called to heaven far sooner than we ever thought possible,” Jarrell posted Wednesday night on Facebook. “This is a very trying time for her parents and our family as we will struggle to get through every second minute hour day week month and year without her here.

“I know so many of you were praying so hard right along with us, and for that we will forever be grateful and consider you a part of our family. I want you all to know how grateful we are for your love and support. Please make sure you hug your kids a little harder tonight, and call your mom and dad and tell them you love them.”

Wake Forest High senior Paige Merical was rescued from a rip current off Emerald Isle in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The family says Paige is brain dead. Another student, Ian Lewis, died in the ocean.

In a statement released Thursday afternoon, Merical’s family said that arrangements for her memorial service are pending. The family thanked a wide range of people, including the community, the first responders and the hospital staff.

“We would like to express our most sincere gratitude to the local Wake Forest and Emerald Isle communities, the State of North Carolina and those worldwide for their prayers, concern, donations and well wishes for Paige,” the family said in the statement. “Since this tragedy occurred at Emerald Isle on Friday, April 19, we have been inundated with your love and prayers that have given us hope and sustained us during our time of grief.”

The family also urged people to register to become organ donors.

“While this is not the outcome that any of us prayed for, we hope that the decision Paige made to be an organ donor will not only allow her to save multiple lives but bring awareness to pediatric organ donation nationwide,” the family said in the statement. ‘What an honor it is for us, her family, to know she will be living on in others, giving them the gift of life. “

The family asked people to continue to send donations to the GoFundMe pages created for their family and for the Lewis family.

As of Thursday afternoon, more than $11,000 had been raised at gofundme.com/jtks52-prayers-for-paige.

Nearly $13,000 had been raised at gofundme.com/green-for-ian by Thursday afternoon.

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.


Charles Duncan covers what’s happening right now across North and South Carolina, from breaking news to fun or interesting stories from across the region. He holds degrees from N.C. State University and Duke and lives two blocks from the ocean in Myrtle Beach.


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