The East Oregonian

The Barfuss house is a quieter place since 16-year-old Ross Barfuss drowned in the ocean Saturday while trying to save another boy.

His father, David Barfuss, said his red-haired son taught himself the piano and the first five or 10 seconds of many songs - he liked to string them together into a medley.

"He played them often," David said "He'd be walking by the piano and sit down for a few minutes - he'd rumble through most of what he knew."

The family moved to Beaverton eight months ago, after living in Pendleton for eight years. Ross attended Aloha High School.

Life changed in an instant Saturday as Ross, his 15-year-old brother Lance and their uncle walked along Gleneden Beach Saturday.

"They were simply enjoying tossing the football around," David said. "They became aware of River Jenison's father who had gone in for him."

River's mother stood on shore yelling for someone to help the 11-year-old boy, who struggled in the surf. All three plunged into the water to help rescue the boy.

"It appears that Ross was just in knee-deep water," David said. "He was rushing to grab River and pull him from the waves.

Then came the gigantic breakers that turned the day tragic. The waves pushed Lance backward onto the sand, but Ross and River were gone.

The wave had slapped them down and sucked them out.

A panicked Lance ran full-speed to find and alert, David and Ross' mother Deanna, who were at a beach house a quarter mile down the beach.

"His mother grabbed her cell phone and called the Coast Guard," David said. "I ran to the beach."

Crowds had already started to gather. David stood on the beach looking out at an empty sea, feeling helpless to save his son.

"There was really nothing I could do," David said, his voice sounding hoarse over the phone line.

A Coast Guard helicopter and rescue boat searched to no avail. River, barely alive, washed ashore about 45 minutes later. He died at the hospital.

Friends of the Barfuss family, members of their church and others set out to find Ross.

"There were as many as 70 people, if not more, combing the beach," David said. "One individual from our church flew his airplane up and down the coast."

The loss is felt deep. David said family members have leaned hard on their faith and their friends since Ross disappeared.

"There's been a huge outpouring of love," he said. "We've had prayers coming every direction from all over the state."

Many are calling Ross a hero, but David describes his son's act as Ross doing the right thing.

"We don't look at him as a hero," he said. "He was simply trying to help a friend in need."

David said he will miss his son's infectious smile, his fun-loving sense of humor and the serious side that motivated him to become heavily involved in his church.

One of his friends, Emily Wallace of Pendleton, said Ross was fun to hang out with and wouldn't allow awkward silences.

"He was always cracking a joke, making people laugh," she said.

She described Ross as a "good kid."

"He always did what his parents asked him to do when they asked," she said.

She paused, remembering.

"His mom had him trained to open car doors for girls," she said, laughing. "Otherwise, he couldn't get into the car."

"He was full of personality," David said.

David said he knows he will see Ross again.

"We will be together beyond death," he said.

The family plans to celebrate Ross' life during couple of memorial services, one in Pendleton. David said the family will announce the details when they become available.


The East Oregonian

Students and staff Monday at Pendleton High School came together to deal with the disappearance of former PHS student Ross Barfuss.

Barfuss, 16, tried to rescue an 11-year-old boy who was struggling in heavy surf at about 1:15 p.m. Saturday at Gleneden Beach.

A riptide current took the boy, River Jenison of Westfir, and Barfuss. Jenison later died at a hospital. Barfuss went missing at sea and his body has not been recovered.

This incident comes about three weeks after PHS students and staff dealt with the Feb. 21 death of Jessica Campbell, 17, a cheerleader at the high school.

PHS Counselor Greg Whitten said the school followed much of the same protocol it did when dealing with that situation, informing students in groups and allowing students to leave classes to go to a safe room.

Whitten said the safe room is where students can go to speak with counselors, other students or to be alone with others near.

About 15-20 students used room Monday, he said.

He also said although he had been Barfuss' counselor, he was learning more about the boy.

The red-haired Barfuss was apparently quite a character at the high school, Whitten said, as students in the safe room have spent the morning telling funny stories about the former Buckaroo.

"Ross did this, Ross did that ... It's been good for the kids," he said.

The Barfuss family moved in June 2007 to Beaverton after living eight years in the Pendleton area. Barfuss finished his sophomore year at PHS and was a junior at Aloha High School.

In Pendleton, Barfuss was involved in drama at the high school and the Boy Scouts. He also loved rock climbing, wakeboarding, hiking and spending time at the beach. And he was an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

As a seventh-grader at Sunridge Middle School in Pendleton, Barfuss acted in drama class. The East Oregonian interviewed Barfuss and some of his fellow classmates in 2003 about their participation in a series of plays with Halloween themes. Barfuss played Sabilla in "Broomstick Beauty."

On Monday, about 60 students gathered at a Mormon student center in Aloha to pray, share stories about Barfuss and write messages to his family.

Last year, Barfuss went on a 50-mile hike with his church. He cheered others on as they tired and shared food with those who forgot their own. In the future, the Aloha High School student hoped to become a traveling dentist and provide care to poor children.

The teenager also loved music and his brain was a database for song lyrics. He joked about making an audition tape for the television show "Don't Forget the Lyrics" so he could win money to share with his family.

The Barfuss family had traveled to the Gleneden Beach area on a family outing when Barfuss spotted Jenison in the surf and made the heroic effort to save the younger boy.

The U.S. Coast Guard launched a 47-foot motor lifeboat crew from Station Depoe Bay to search for the victims and a helicopter crew from Air Station North Bend also joined the search.

Lincoln City Fire and Rescue recovered Jenison, who had washed ashore and was still alive. Rescue workers flew Jenison in a helicopter to the Lincoln City Hospital, where he died.

The Coast Guard stopped searching for Barfuss at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Barfuss' family, however, continued the search, along with members of family's church.

Dozens of members of the Hazeldale stake of the Mormon church came Sunday to help the family. A local Subway sandwich business donated food to those helping in Sunday's search and recovery effort.


The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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