By Gosia Wozniacka and Tracie Cone
Members of St. George’s Church in Ceres gathered for a prayer vigil Wednesday evening, grieving over the tragedy that occurred on a church group outing a day earlier.
The church pastor, Genard Lazar, was a part of the group of about a dozen hikers who ascended the steep Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Falls to pose for photographs.
Tanya Badal, the sister of victim Ramina Badal, saw her sister go over the falls. She declined to talk about what happened atop Vernal’s precipice, but said that despite the passage of time she was still praying the three would be found alive.
“I still have hope,” she said outside of the church.
Bishop Mar Awa Royel said he has been praying with the family for a quick recovery of the bodies, still missing after two days of searching.
On Wednesday Badal’s parents, Tony and Virginia, supported each other as they walked sobbing into the church. When Virginia’s knees buckled, Tony caught her.
“This will be a chance for us to re-educate our young people about how valuable life is,” said Charmain Morad-Daniel, a member of the Assyrian National Council of Stanislaus County, as mourners packed the church.
Friends said the victims likely did not understand that the swift-moving Merced River could be so treacherous.
Witnesses say the young tourists were trying to pose for a picture. Instead they burned a horrifying image into the memories of everyone who saw.