Community mourns family swept out to sea

Howard Kuljian and his family were out for a walk on a damp, overcast morning at Big Lagoon beach, playing fetch with their dog as 10-foot surf churned the water just feet away like a washing machine. Signs near the beach warned of “sneaker waves,” the kind that suddenly roar ashore.

SAN FRANCISCO — Howard Kuljian and his family were out for a walk on a damp, overcast morning at Big Lagoon beach, playing fetch with their dog as 10-foot surf churned the water just feet away like a washing machine.

Signs near the beach warned of “sneaker waves,” the kind that suddenly roar ashore.

Kuljian tossed a stick that took their dog down to the water’s edge and in an instant, authorities said, a wave swallowed it, setting off a nightmarish scramble early Saturday in Arcata.

“Everything kind of snowballed from there,” Coast Guard Lt. Bernie Garrigan said.

Kuljian’s son ran to save the dog, and struggled as he was captured by the surging surf. Kuljian followed, and later his wife. On shore, his 18-year-old daughter and his son’s girlfriend could only watch.

Both parents’ bodies were later recovered, but the boy — presumed dead — is still missing. The dog, identified by the boy’s friend as “Fran,” eventually made it back to shore.

The news of the tragedy — coming during the long holiday weekend — shocked many in their small college town on the rough Northern California coastline about 280 miles north of San Francisco. Students at the high school where Kuljian’s son, Gregory, went wore green in his memory.

By late Monday afternoon, more than 1,300 people “liked” a Facebook page set up by the teenager’s friends called “Wear Green for Geddie” — using his nickname. Dozens tweeted tributes with the hash-tag (hash)WearGreenGorGeddie.

“I will always remember him no matter how long,” wrote Emmalaya Owen on the Facebook page. “Especially how he was such an upbeat happy person or how he tried to put up ’Be Happy’ propaganda posters he drew around school.”

Others were trying to come to terms with the deaths. His sister, Olivia, graduated from the school last year.

“He was just a friendly guy, and everyone who knew him liked him, and his family was very close,” said Day Robins, a high school senior. She said Gregory and his family were active in school athletics and sailing.

Big Lagoon beach is a short drive from Arcata. Signs are posted near the parking lot warning beachgoers not to turn their back to the surf and to pay special attention to “sneaker waves,” Garrigan said.

“Because the beach is designed that way, when that 10-foot wall breaks, it surges up on the beach and surges back really fast,” he said.

“It’s like a cyclical washing machine.”

As the family walked along the beach, Howard Kuljian threw the stick and the dog gave chase, said Dana Jones, a state parks district superintendent.

Seeing his son in the water, Howard Kuljian, 54, leapt to action, and disappeared into the frigid water.

Gregory managed to pull himself back onto the sand, but after realizing his father was drowning, both he and his mother, 57-year-old Mary Scott, went in to the cold sea to save him.

As Olivia and the girlfriend watched in horror, a nearby bystander called police. By the time help arrived, it was too late. Jones said the officer wasn’t able to get to the family members because of the high surf.

Garrigan said the search for the teenager was stopped because a person without a wetsuit could not survive for long in the surf because of the temperature of the water.

The Coast Guard deployed a helicopter and two motor life boats to search for the teenager, but thick coastal fog made the search difficult. The parks department has also called off its search.

“When there is shorebreak like that, you don’t even have to go into the water to be pulled into the sea,” Jones said. “It’s a reminder to be real careful around the ocean.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, reported 323 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)
‘We’re in a danger zone,’ says Hinshaw

The province’s top doctor says “we’re in a danger zone” when it… Continue reading

Mayor Tara Veer pleads with the premier Tuesday to review the decision to move to a consolidated EMS dispatch system, which will be moved to three centres across the province. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
‘Issue of life and death’: mayors plead with government to halt consolidated EMS dispatch

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer calls on premier to overturn consolidated EMS dispatch decision

A $2.3-billion expansion of Alberta’s natural gas transportation system has been approved. “This should provide significant benefits — and we need every little bit of economic boost we can get,” says Reg Warkentin, policy adviser for the Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce. (Flickr photo)
Red Deer-area to benefit from $2.3 billion gas pipeline expansion project

Project will add 344 km of new pipeline between RMH and Grande Prairie

Dustin Snider was elected the new board president for Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)
Earl’s Restaurant manager re-elected Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce president

Dustin Snider has been re-elected president of the Red Deer & Distict… Continue reading

Red Deer singer Kayla Williams hopes listeners fed up with the pandemic are comforted by her new song, Stealing from My Youth, which is digitally available for streaming on Friday. (Contributed photo).
Red Deer singer summarizes universal pandemic feelings in a new single

Kayla Williams releases ‘Stealing From My Youth’ on Friday

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw warms up before Game 1 of the baseball World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Kershaw, LA stars shine, Dodgers top Rays 8-3 in WS opener

Kershaw, LA stars shine, Dodgers top Rays 8-3 in WS opener

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford leaps over a challenge by PSG's Presnel Kimpembe during the Champions League group H soccer match between Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United at the Parc des Princes in Paris, France, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
Man United wins again at PSG; Messi scores in Barca rout

Man United wins again at PSG; Messi scores in Barca rout

Hamilton Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis, right, hugs captain Kyle Bekker following their victory in the Canadian Premier League soccer final against the Calgary Cavalry in Calgary, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. Under Smyrniotis, Forge FC has been the class of the Canadian Premier League. The two-time champions from Hamilton look to mark their internationally this week as they open CONCACAF League play in El Salvador. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Forge FC coach Bobby Smyrniotis’ influence on Canadian soccer continues to grow

Forge FC coach Bobby Smyrniotis’ influence on Canadian soccer continues to grow

Players' sticks are shown during a World Hockey Championships game in Moscow, Russia on Thursday, May 12, 2016. A senior hockey team in a small city in southern Manitoba has changed its name following a push against the use of Indigenous names and caricatures as mascots. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Ivan Sekretarev
Manitoba senior hockey team changes Indigenous name to Bombers

Manitoba senior hockey team changes Indigenous name to Bombers

Jason Kokrak tees off during the final round of the CJ Cup golf tournament at Shadow Creek Golf Course Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in North Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
Long drive champ Berkshire looking to compete in tournaments

Long drive champ Berkshire looking to compete in tournaments

The Los Angeles Dodgers line up during during the national anthem and a fly over before Game 1 of the baseball World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Pandemic World Series draws smallest crowd in over century

Pandemic World Series draws smallest crowd in over century

Keegan Messing performs in the Gala at the 2020 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships in Mississauga, Ont., on Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Messing dedicating his Skate America performance to grounded Canadian teammates

Messing dedicating his Skate America performance to grounded Canadian teammates

Most Read