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Gresham girl, 12, drowns at Roslyn Lake

Family, classmates mourn loss of Clara Ascencio
by: Contributed photo, Davis Elementary fifth-grader Clara Elias Ascencio drowned in Roslyn Lake on Saturday.

At first they hoped for a miracle.

Clara Elias Ascencio, a Davis Elementary School fifth-grader, disappeared in the cool waters of Roslyn Lake while swimming with three relatives during the afternoon of Sunday, June 25. Divers spent Sunday evening and much of Monday, June 26, searching for her body.

But until students knew for sure that she'd drowned, they hoped she'd be found alive.

Parents and teachers knew the Gresham girl - noted for her shiny black hair and friendly demeanor - had likely drowned. But adults don't have the right to dash children's prayers, said school counselor Louise Gray.

So on Monday, June 26, students wrote down their thoughts and drew pictures in honor of Clara. Meanwhile, about 30 members of Clara's large extended family gathered on the lake's shore early in the morning and watched searchers scour the waters.

At about 2:50 p.m., divers found Clara's body.

A heartbreaking wail rang out across the water as relatives mourned the discovery.

•••

Clara, 12, and her family went to the lake, a few miles north of Sandy, on a sweltering Sunday. Along with three female relatives, ages 17 to 13, Clara swam from the main shore to a sandbar. The girls were swimming back and were about 1,000 yards from shore when they encountered a deep channel that generates currents.

Exhausted, the four girls struggled. Clara went under, as did a 13-year-old girl, identified as Claudia Elias, who police reports indicate was Clara's sister, as was at least one of the 17-year-old girls, said Det. Jim Strovink, Clackamas County Sheriff's Office spokesman.

Nearby boaters noticed the girls in distress and began pulling them from the water. They rescued three of them, including Elias, who was drifting in and out of consciousness. 'She was within a few gasps of air from drowning,' Strovink said. Doctors treated and released the girl from Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center.

Despite the best efforts of good Samaritans boating at the scene, they couldn't find Clara.

The Clackamas County Water Rescue Consortium, made up of police and fire agencies from Clackamas County, worked into the night to find her. Canines capable of tracking in water were deployed. As night fell, divers used sonar devices to search in the dark but ended their efforts at 10:30 p.m.

At daybreak Monday, divers resumed the search. A little before 3 p.m., they recovered Clara's body in about 12 feet of 63-degree water. Her body was about 70 yards north of where she was last seen.

•••

The day divers found Clara's body, six counselors from various schools in the Reynolds School District helped students at Davis Elementary School cope. They told the students, grades kindergarten through fifth, that divers were looking for Clara, who failed to surface from Rosyln Lane the day before.

Counselors also told students they might see things at school they don't ordinarily see. Like their teachers crying.

With so many relatives - such as a little brother and several cousins - attending Davis Elementary, just about every classroom was affected by the tragedy.

Approximately 100 students went to the library, designated a safe room, to vent thoughts and feelings. Channeling their energy into art, they created so many cards for the family that two boys decorated a paper bag to hold them all.

Many cards were colored blue, her favorite color.

Others had pictures of roses, her favorite flower.

On Tuesday, June 27, the mood shifted from hope to sorrow. Four first-graders sat in Gray's office, cutting heart-shaped sympathy cards. Three of them rode the school bus with Clara.

'We feel bad that she died because she had only a little bit of her life,' said first-grader Francisco Lopez-Santana, 7, who lives across the street from the girl's family. Her death is like what happens in games, 'but it was real,' Lopez-Santana said.

When asked what he was working on, Juan Ramon Guillen, 6, answered solemnly, 'We're doing something nice for her family.'

'She's nice,' he added, still talking of the girl in the present tense.

Students in Clara's fifth-grade class, taught by LouAnn Tiedemann, made pages for a book to be bound and presented to her family.

'You were always nice, you had pretty hair,' wrote Gloria Guzman.

'Clara was fun to have in our class for two years,' wrote Jesse Ramos, adding that she made everybody laugh.

Ivan Ortiz-Menke noted that Clara was a careful reader with perfect attendance. 'We are sad you won't come back,' he wrote.

-- Sandy Post Editor Marcus Hathcock contributed to this report.

Funeral services

What: Funeral Mass for Clara Elias Ascencio, 12

When: 2 p.m. Saturday, July 1

Where: St. Anne Catholic Church, 1015 S.E. 182nd Ave.

Details: Call Bateman Carroll Funeral Home, 503-665-2128