About 100 people gathered at a vigil at Damien High School to light candles and leave flowers in memory of Timothy Staples, a teacher at the school who died Saturday after he fell while searching for missing hiker Sree Mokkapati on Mount Baldy.
Staples volunteered with the West Valley Search and Rescue unit of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. Students, teachers, friends and fellow rescuers all had a story to tell about the 32-year-old.
“Tim is a hero and unfortunately paid the ultimate sacrifice so others may live,” Mike Leum, also a volunteer with the search and rescue team, said.
Staples had gotten married just six months before his death. He taught social sciences and English, and coached track at Damien High School in La Verne.
“The search and rescue work, Tim loved to do," Merritt Hemenway, principal of Damien High School, said. "He had a cross country banquet Friday night. He left early to join his buddies on the mountain."
His fellow volunteers also recalled a Staples who was happy to help.
“When I met him he was such a light and beacon to everybody... Always had something positive to say,” Michelle Walsh, of the search and rescue team, said.
Family and friends of Mokkapati, who is still missing, also gathered in prayer at the vigil, heartbroken over his death.
“I am personally so sorry for this family that has to go through this,” Mokkapati’s son, Shravan Mokkapati, said. “I didn’t expect it to pan out a tragic ending for one of the volunteers we do dearly respect.”
The Mokkapati family said their grief has been doubled with the loss of Staples.
“Our mission is so others live, and you know, we don’t want them to feel guilty for this, this is what we do,” Walsh said.
In a Facebook post, Staples’ sister shared a touching photo of their family gathered for Christmas last year. She expressed how she was “grateful for the gift [he was]” and felt unprepared to live without him.
Mokkapati was an experienced hiker who went missing on Sunday, Dec. 8. According to the Sheriff’s department, the search for Mokkapati has been indefinitely suspended.