The idea of community is one of the singular aspects we use to attract students to Juniata College. We often emphasize how our campus and the surrounding neighborhoods give students a sense of belonging.
It almost always takes a shock or an unforeseen event to remind members of a community how truly blessed they are to be a part of a group that will drop everything to lend a hand.
Our bonds of community were tested last weekend when Aaron Riley, a 21-year-old graduate student from Michigan State University visiting Juniata's Raystown Field Station, took a swim a little after 6 p.m. in the placid waters of the lake. Unfortunately, Riley, an environmental studies student who loved outdoor activities, never emerged from the water.
Once his colleagues realized he was missing, they notified Logan Fischer, a Juniata residence director, and Chris Bomgardner, station facilities manager, who notified Huntingdon Emergency Services and brought the Michigan State group together to organize searches.
Within an hour, local fire departments, emergency responders, medical personnel and law enforcement officials were on site and had started a concerted organized search.
At the height of the two-day search, there were more than 450 professionals and volunteers searching every inch of the 450-acre area near the field station.
Four diver teams searched the lake. Teams from 50 responder departments from more than 30 communities in our area rushed to the scene. Even a mounted rescue rider, air patrols and bloodhound teams were brought in.
Unfortunately, Riley's body was found Monday morning. Yet in our disappointment at not finding him alive, the entire Juniata community was immensely grateful for the nearly instantaneous response by responders and volunteers, a sentiment shared by Aaron's parents, who told Roy Nagle, Juniata's safety director, to convey their heartfelt thanks to the entire community and Juniata College.
The Rileys also asked us to mention that Aaron never wanted to be held back by epilepsy and that there is a continuing need to educate the public on the risks associated with this disease.
I'd like to join Shawn and Shari Riley in giving thanks to the entire central Pennsylvania community for their dedication, compassion and expertise.
The Juniata community would like to recognize Adam Miller, director of Huntingdon County Emergency Services, for overseeing the search and recovery effort and Marklesburg Fire Chief Marlin Hunsicker and Saxton Fire Chief Mark Taylor for serving as incident commanders.
I was impressed by the professionalism of the officials and supervisors from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who oversee the Raystown Lake watershed, as well as the investigators of the Pennsylvania State Police and local law enforcement.
Finally, I'd like to thank Juniata's staff out at the Raystown Field Station.
Many times a community doesn't know how to measure its own capacity to respond to a crisis until a moment of truth actually happens. For our community's response to the noble effort to find Aaron Riley, we now know that Huntingdon's willingness to help is second to none.
Tom Kepple, Huntingdon
Juniata College president