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2 Ohio students drown, 1 missing in Costa Rica

By Doug Whiteman

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, May 5 2011 12:35 p.m. MDT

In a May 4, 2011 photo, Megan Maggart, left, a family friend, comforts Sandra Shoaf, the mother of student James Smith, after a memorial service at Redeemer's On Courtright Church in Columbus, Ohio. A Costa Rican Red Cross official said Thursday that the body of a second U.S. high school student, James Smith, 16, who drowned off the country's Pacific coast, has been recovered. A group of five students from Ohio was pulled out to sea Wednesday by an undertow current. Two survived after being rescued by lifeguards. Rescuers are still looking for a missing student.

The Columbus Dispatch, Eric Albrecht, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Two Ohio teenagers on a school mission trip to Costa Rica died in the Pacific Ocean when they were pulled along by an undertow current, and a third student swept out with them has not been found, officials said Thursday.

The three were spending an afternoon at the beach when Wednesday's accident occurred, according to a statement from Patriot Preparatory Academy in Columbus. They were among eight members of the junior and senior classes who were on a service trip in the central American country and were to return home Thursday, the school said.

The first body recovered was that of Caity Jones. James Smith's body was recovered Thursday, and authorities were still searching for missing student Kai Lamar, Red Cross spokesman Freddy Roman said.

Members of The Redeemer's on Courtright Church in Columbus, where Smith and his family attend, had been praying for good news, said associate pastor Rick Kulich.

"It's a great loss for our church. It's a great loss for the Body of Christ because this kid was gonna go somewhere. It's just sad," he said.

He described Smith as a "brainiac" who looked younger than his 16 years.

"He wanted to be a servant in the sense of working with the youth pastor and the youth leaders, just a good-hearted kid," Kulich said.

The boy's father and the church's pastor, Dwight Bennett, were trying to make their way to Costa Rica together on Thursday, the associate pastor said.

The three teens were swept out by a rip current in the Pacific near the town of Parrita, the Costa Rican Red Cross told The Tico Times newspaper. They were doing missionary work at an orphanage and a drug rehabilitation center, among other places, according to a blog the group is keeping on the trip.

A visit to the orphanage "was one of the most touching things I had ever seen," one of the students blogged.

The academy said it had grief counselors at the school for students on Thursday.

"Our hearts go out to all of our Patriot family that has been affected by this tragedy. We are a family and when one hurts we all hurt," the statement said.

A message seeking further comment was left for academy executive director David McIlrath.

Messages also were left for trip organizer, Ohio-based Impulse International Mission Trips. The group on its website posted a message saying "we are in deep sorrow," and asking for prayer for those affected by the tragedy.

Two other students in the group also were swept away but were rescued by lifeguards, The Tico Times reported.

In 2006, three Kansas students and their teacher drowned in Costa Rica while on a Spanish language immersion trip. A group of students were swimming and some were swept away by strong currents. At least two were rescued, but the teacher and one of the students died trying to save the others.

Associated Press Writer Marianela Jimenez in San Jose, Costa Rica, contributed to this report.

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