Prayer Service Scheduled for Rescuer Who Died in Search of Irvine Hiker

Timothy Staples was a teacher at Damien High School in La Verne, an all-male Catholic school.

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A prayer service is scheduled Monday at a Catholic school in La Verne for the family of a San Bernardino Search and Rescue team volunteer who died while searching for a missing Irvine man near Mount Baldy.

Timothy Staples, 32, died Saturday when he became separated from his partner and was located unresponsive on ice and snow.

A medic was lowered to the where Staples was and discovered him deceased, the sheriff's department said. "The cause and circumstances surrounding this incident are unknown and investigators are working to determine exactly what occurred," the department said.

Staples was a teacher at Damien High School in La Verne, an all-male Catholic school.

Members of the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department West Valley Search and Rescue team remember their partner at a vigil held at Damien High School. Jane Yamamoto reports for the NBC4 News at 9 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019.

The school announced on Facebook the prayer service will be held at 3:30 p.m. at the Damien Event Center.

 "The Damien High School community is devastated by the loss of a beloved and devoted member of our social science and English faculty," the school said in a statement posted on Facebook. "Tim Staples was a newly-married faculty member and a Damien class of 2006 graduate ... He was a favorite teacher among his students. Tim also coached cross country and track and field."


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The San Bernardino Sheriff's Department said it was reevaluating the search operations so the search remained suspended for 52-year-old Sreenivas "Sree" Mokkapati of Irvine, who was hiking with a group from the Village at Bear Flats to the Mt. Baldy Summit on the morning of Dec. 8, according to the sheriff's department, and at some point, Mokkapati became separated from the group.

The last person to see him, Justin Williams, said he wished he would have told Sree to turn around. "I keep reliving that moment in my mind," Williams said. "He muttered something, I didn't quite hear what he said, and then he just kept walking."

The La Verne community is mourning after a beloved high school teacher and rescue volunteer died while searching for missing hiker, Sreenivas "Sree" Mokkapati. Gene Kang reports for Today in LA on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019.

Search and rescue volunteer teams from San Bernardino, Tulare, Fresno, San Mateo and Los Angeles counties have searched the mountain for any sign of Sree or his direction of travel.

"Mr. Mokkapati is considered an experienced hiker and has hiked Mount Baldy a number of times," the SBCSD said. "He was prepared for a day hike and has limited supplies."

Mokkapati was last seen wearing a gray "puffy" jacket and gray pants.

Anyone with information about his whereabouts was urged to contact the Fontana Sheriff's Station at 909-453-5392, or 909-677-9436. Callers wishing to remain anonymous are urged to call the We-tip Hotline at 1-800-78-CRIME.

At a Wednesday night candlelight vigil, Sree's son, Shravan Mokkapati, said it was "heartbreaking" to find out that his father was not among four other stranded or injured hikers that rescue teams came across during the day.

The closure of some areas of Mount Baldy was in effect until Dec. 31 or until the search and rescue operation ends, according to the SBCSD.

If you would like to donate to a GoFundMe account set up for Timothy Staples, you may do so here. Note that GoFundMe deducts 2.9 percent of all funds raised, plus 30 cents per donation, in the form of payment processing charges.

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