Community mourns Nevada Union student who died in hiking accident
To his friends and family, Jake Morales was a selfless, caring and lovable kid who enjoyed the outdoors, baking cupcakes with his cousins, and telling silly jokes with his childhood friends.
“He was the most caring, sensitive, spiritual, just funny-silly guy,” his mother Alecia Morales told The Union. “He cared about everyone, and he just loved life to the fullest. That was my kid, he was a happy-go-lucky guy. That was Jake in a nutshell.”
On Monday afternoon, close to 100 students and community members gathered in the Nevada Union High School staff parking lot, forming a circle of prayer for Jake Morales, a 16-year-old NU junior who died in a tragic hiking accident Sunday.
According to the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office, late Sunday morning deputies received a call about a possible drowning in a creek near Weaver Lake in the Tahoe National Forest.
Deputies, National Forest service, and CareFlight crews were called out to the scene for a victim who may have fallen from a cliff, and was found face down in a body of water.
“It appears that members of the group he was with found him, and one of those individuals is an EMT, and began to render aid,” Sgt. Bob Jakobs said. “It didn’t appear that the aid was working. It appears he was deceased upon their discovery of him.”
CareFlight nurses responded first and declared the victim dead at 11:40 a.m., police reports state.
“It looks like he may have gotten ahead of a group when they were hiking, and it appears like the incident was unwitnessed,” said Jakobs. “It’s possible that he potentially fell 100 feet.”
Sheriff’s officials would not release further details of the cause of death at this time, though Jake’s father, Mitch Morales said his son’s body would be released by the coroner on Wednesday.
“I’m so glad we’re in a community like this where people can help and be with us. It feels good, and Jake is happy, I’m sure,” Mitch Morales said. “But he’d want everyone to be happy. He always worked on making everyone happy.”
It was a somber day, though, for Jake’s friends and family, with many of them choking back tears as they shared their favorite memories spent with him.
Duke Morales, Jake’s younger brother, said he’ll miss the big bowl of macaroni and cheese his brother would often make him to cheer him up.
“I don’t know why I liked being in his room so much. I just did. I would always just lay in his bed,” Duke Morales said. “He always made sure I was OK, he was a great brother.”
Jake’s childhood friend Michael Kennedy said he’s known Jake since first grade, and that “it was a real honor to have him as a friend.”
“We used to do a lot of things, I loved going to his house. We’d always have great times with his family,” Kennedy said. “He was a really happy guy, he always tried to help people that were down.”
Tina Olsen, Jake’s aunt, says she will miss her nephew’s tie-dye shirts, and the way he laughed and smiled.
“He was a great friend to everybody. A very careful and loving kid. He cared about everybody, he really did,” Olsen said.
NU Assistant Principal Kelly Rhoden attended Monday’s prayer, and said Jake’s death is a tragic loss for the school and surrounding community.
“It’s horrible,” she said. “I really feel for the family, I feel for all the kids that feel like he’s family. I can say that our community is amazing and the support that the family will have and the support that these kids have is incomparable.”
District Superintendent Louise Johnson said the school will be providing counselors for students and staff today, along with an opportunity for friends and family to gather and write about their memories of Jake in the school’s gym.
“It’s always really tough when you lose a student. These are young people on the brink of their lives, and to have a loss like this is devastating to the family and the entire school community,” Johnson said. “Our hearts go out to the family and the friends for their loss at this time, and we’re just going to keep them in our thoughts.”
Alecia and Mitch Morales spent much of Monday’s prayer circle reminiscing the wonderful times they’ve had with their son, and reiterating the principles and values he stood for.
“Enjoy life to the fullest, everybody be grateful and blessed for having everyone (who) touched your life,” Alecia Morales said. “Don’t take life for granted. You just don’t know when it’s your time.”
To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.
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