Sneaker waves are a known menace at the Big Lagoon beach where the family perished. Speaking after the deaths of Howard Kuljian, 54, wife Mary Scott, 57, and their son, Gregory, Coast Guard officer Bernie Garrigan explains that sneaker waves — for which signs are posted in warning in and around Big Lagoon — the danger is not always immediately discernable by beachgoers:
“Because the beach is designed that way, when that 10-foot wall breaks, it surges up on the beach and surges back really fast … It’s like a cyclical washing machine.”
Garrigan explains that when Kuljian threw a stick for the dog to fetch, the tragic chain of events began to unfold. The animal was swept away, and Gregory went after him. Kuljian and Scott both drowned in an attempt to retrieve their son, as daughter Olivia, 18, and the teen boy’s girlfriend watched from the shore.
The ten-foot high “sneaker waves” impeded efforts to rescue all three of the victims after help was summoned. The body of Gregory has yet to be recovered, but those of his parents soon emerged.
After the Saturday deaths, classmates of the teen boy organized a memorial for him on Facebook and Twitter, using the hashtag #weargreenforgeddie, referencing the student’s nickname. Locals in Arcata, California have been using the term to post remembrances and condolences for the family on Twitter:
The world lost a truly amazing family, I’ll never forget all of the fun I have had with them and their kindness. #WearGreenForGeddie
— Erin McNulty (@erinkmcnulty) November 26, 2012
State Parks superintendent Dana Jones says that even those on the shore are at risk from sneaker waves, commenting:
“When there is shorebreak like that, you don’t even have to go into the water to be pulled into the sea … It’s a reminder to be real careful around the ocean.”
The family dog was able to escape the waves and survived the incident.