USF graduate Raffaele Macri knew something was wrong when he heard the yelling.
Macri and four others were swimming Saturday at the same beach where USF graduate Aly Lakdawala and three others got caught in a riptide off the shores of Matapalo, Costa Rica in the Pacific Ocean.
Macri said the group he was swimming with heard screaming, then hurried out of the water. They gathered with students on the beach and realized something: Lakdawala was missing.
“I was in panic, and I was running around myself,” said Macri, who was Lakdawala’s roommate on the trip.
USF officials said lifeguards were on the beach, but Macri said the group had to run into town to find help.
Costa Rican officials then arrived at the scene while the students left Matapalo and went to stay in the capital, San Jose.
On Tuesday, a Costa Rica Coast Guard search boat found Lakdawala’s body one nautical mile from the shore in the Pacific Ocean. Lakdawala’s father identified the body.
“Losing a student or any member of our USF community is a tragedy for our University,” said USF President Judy Genshaft in a news conference Tuesday. “It’s heartbreaking that this would happen to anyone, but especially to a young man who was going to help serve the world.”
The Costa Rica Coast Guard, American Embassy, Red Cross, local police and lifeguards began search efforts the same day. Helicopters and boats assisted in the search.
Maria Crummett, Dean of International Studies, and Rene Sanchez, a coordinator for International Affairs and Education Abroad, flew to Costa Rica on Sunday to assist Lakdawala’s father and uncle.
Fourteen students began their trip on May 8 led by Jennifer Espinola, director of the Center of Leadership and Civic Engagment. The group volunteered at an orphanage in San Jose, then went to Matapalo to work with a Costa Rican biologist on a turtle conservation project.
On Monday, 11 of the 14 students arrived at Tampa International Airport with Wayne Espinola, husband of Espinola.
USF Vice President of Student Affairs Jennifer Meningall received a phone call around 3 a.m. Eastern time Tuesday from Espinola, who said that Lakdawala’s body had been found.
Later that day, USF officials informed the students who had returned.
“These students have formed a significant bond with each other,” Meningall said. “Because they not only were trained to go on the trip together, but they have been on the trip for about a week together and did a service for others at the same time.”
After Lakdawala’s body was found, the last three group members returned to the United States on Tuesday night.
Macri said the students’ trip was scheduled to end today.
Lakdawala’s father, uncle and other USF officials in Costa Rica plan to return today. Fardana Fauzan, Lakdawala’s aunt, said the family just wants to cope with their loss.
“They are in shock right now,” she said. “Right now, everybody is not in the mood to talk … The boy is gone. Nobody can do nothing for him.”
At a press conference Tuesday, USF officials said the University will review the policies and procedures of future trips.
“Just like any situation that might occur on any other university campus, it gives us an opportunity to do that and we’ll take that opportunity,” Meningall said. “Whether there will be any changes — We’re not sure about that.”
International Affairs hosted pre-trip orientations for students who were going to both Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.
“They did specifically address the riptide … then I believe there were on-site orientations,” said Amanda Maurer, director of Education Abroad.
Maurer said she was not present at the orientations. She also said these were general orientations and students had other more country-specific orientations outside the Education Abroad program.
Hoad said specific review plans have not been made, but Student Affairs, the Center of Leadership and Civic Engagement and Education Abroad will be involved in the process.
“My expectation would be that there will be a review, the review will report to the vice president of student affairs, and then the boards (of the center) will make decisions together,” Hoad said. “So it’s very much a decision between the students who are involved and the administration in terms of what they do next year.”
Hoad said he believes students will want to continue these trips regardless of potential changes.
“Remember, these students had a marvelous experience,” he said. “These trips are very
powerful, they’re very fulfilling for us.”