Big Isle family holds out slim hope for finding boy
An official search ends for a 12-year-old who vanished while fishing
CAPTAIN COOK, Hawaii » Tired after two days of camping and fishing on the rocky shoreline of South Kona, Alexander Derego left his uncle and brother to monitor the fishing lines, and he headed back to camp less than 100 feet away.
Alexander Derego: Other students at Waimea Middle School looked up to "Big Al"
It was 8 p.m. Saturday, and the athletic 12-year-old who loved fishing and the ocean has not been seen since, sparking an intense search by family, friends and rescue personnel. The official search ended yesterday, but his family plans to continue while acknowledging that hopes have dimmed.
"We're stumped. We don't know what to think," Derego's cousin Maitland Akau said yesterday.
"Every day that goes by, a little hope slips away. You try to hope for the best, but you try to prepare for the worst," said Akau, who made a two-hour drive from Honokaa and arrived at the site about 3 a.m. Sunday to help in the search.
In the Saturday night darkness, the Waimea Middle School seventh-grader, his brother, Kaleo Gambill, and uncle David Herring Jr. were alerted by bells on their long fishing lines. They went to check the lines on a large rock in the water connected to the shore by a 10-foot-long plank, said Derego's godmother, Pua Correa.
Derego soon told the other two he was going back to their camp. About 15 minutes later, Herring and Gambill returned to the camp and discovered "Alika" Derego was not there.
County fire rescue personnel, state Department of Land and Natural Resources officers and the Coast Guard began a search at daybreak. More than 75 family and friends joined them. In 4 1/2 days of searching, winding down yesterday, the only thing they found was Derego's flashlight in 20-foot-deep water near the plank to the rock.
Searchers have speculated that Derego fell from the plank leading to the little island.
"If he was in the water and needed help, he wouldn't have panicked," Akau said. "He would have been able to call for help."
The sea was not bad, just a little "surgey," Akau said. But if Derego hit his head on a rock, that would have been different.
"There were a lot of rocks down there," he said.
The family is planning a "Celebration of the Life of Alexander Derego," open to the public, tomorrow at the Kahilu Theater in Waimea at 11 a.m.
"He was a strong kid," Akau said. Derego played baseball and football, loved to hunt and fish, and loved the water.
"He's a great swimmer. He dives for three or four hours, no problem," Akau said.
Academically, Derego was an average student at Waimea Middle School. But other students loved him, looked up to him and called him "Big Al" with affection, Correa said.
The school called Akau to talk to a group of eight to 10 kids in a counselor's office Monday. "Some kids were crying," he said.
The boy's parents, Lawrence "Lamar" and Shirley Derego, have been on an emotional roller coaster, Correa said.
When boats went out searching in the morning, the parents were full of hope. When the boats returned without their son, their fears returned.
A handful of family members plan to remain at the coast today. The hardest thing is not knowing what happened.
"The family hopes to recover something," Akau said.