SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - It was an unusually hot day, school had let out the week prior and it was also recently Bereketabe Yohannes' 14th birthday.
So on Monday, Bereketabe, told his father that he'd be back in a bit because he just wanted to hang out with friends. He didn't tell his dad that he was going to Crissy Field Beach, right by his school, Claire Lilienthal, an academically rigorous campus in the Marina. His father told him to return soon. He had just bought him a Safeway birthday cake to celebrate when his mom came home.
"He said he'd be back in a minute or two," his father, Dawit Yohannes, told KTVU on Wednesday.
But his son never came back.
At 2 p.m., police called Yohannes to say his youngest of four sons had fallen back into waist-deep water and began struggling. There is a steep dropoff where he was standing and the water quickly became too deep.
His friends tried to pull him out, but they couldn’t grab him in time. Crews searched for the boy until 3:20 p.m. They found his body about 25 yards out in deep water and pulled him ashore. Paramedics tried to save him. But it was too late. He was pronounced dead at California Pacific Medical Center. (The medical examiner spells the boy's name Berekteab.)
"Everything is lost," his father said. "He was my lovely boy."
Every day, about 10 people die from unintentional drowning. Of these, two are children aged 14 or younger, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States. Across the bay, two people in the last three days drowned at Lake Del Valle near Livermore. East Bay Regional Park District crews confirmed on Wednesday that a body had been recovered by search and rescue teams in the area where a young man had fallen off a boat near Swallow Bay.
San Francisco Fire Lt. Jonathan Baxter said that there is no lifeguard at Crissy Field -- the closest beach with a lifeguard is in Marin County at Stinson Beach. He said that beach goers must realize that San Francisco has "extremely aggressive wave patterns" and strong rip currents, not only on the coastline, but also inside the bay. Baxter credited the boy's friends with "doing everything right," from trying to save the teen to calling 911.
According to Bereketabe's brother, Abereham, the issue of swimming had never really come up. In fact, Abereham said his younger brother had told him that he was going to play basketball with friends that day. "I'm not sure if he lied or his plans changed," he said.
For the last two days, the family has been gathering at the First Union Baptist Church to mourn their loss. Bereketabe’s parents, a taxi driver and a housekeeper at Mercy House, immigrated to San Francisco from Ethiopia, where they hope to return the recently graduated 7th-grader’s body later this month.
Sarvar Kothavala, whose son is friends with Berektabe, created a GoFundMe page to help fly the family 9,000 miles to the Horn of Africa.
“It’s very important to be buried in their sacred homeland,” Kothavala said. She said that Bereketabe was an honor roll student, who was always smiling and well-behaved.
Kothavala hasn’t yet spoken to her son, Jehan Pejavar, 14, who is away at an electronics-free camp and doesn’t know about this friend’s death yet.
Meanwhile, the Yohannes family is at a loss with this sudden death. Dawit Yohannes said he doesn't know what he'll do without his son, a caring boy who always made sure his dad managed his diabetes and with whom he was very close.
And the birthday mood that had been waiting for Bereketabe at home, has now turned into one of deep sorrow. His father said that the Safeway birthday cake is still in the refrigerator, left untouched.
KTVU's Christien Kafton contributed to this report.