For 2 years, Robin McCrear puzzled what occurred to the final video footage her son recorded earlier than he died.
Her son, Richard Lee Ragland III, 22, drowned in June 2017 close to a waterfall in Foster Falls State Park in Tennessee, she stated. It was a devastating loss for Ms. McCrear, 51, who described her son as charismatic, widespread and pushed. “We simply miss him a lot,” she stated. “The enjoyment, the power.”
She knew that Mr. Ragland had been recording his travels with a GoPro digicam, which he had carried with him into the water. However the little machine had by no means been discovered.
So Ms. McCrear stated she was speechless this month when she discovered stranger had positioned her son’s footage in Tennessee and was bringing it to her in Georgia. “To obtain that telephone name — oh my God, it was a dream come true,” she stated.
The stranger was Wealthy Abernathy, 27, a diver and YouTuber from Florida who goes by Wealthy Aloha. He discovered the GoPro on July 27 and shortly found that the footage it had captured — nonetheless crisp and clear — appeared to belong to the younger man whose dying had made native headlines two years earlier.
When Mr. Abernathy checked outdated information experiences and seemed on the video time stamps, every thing matched up. “That’s once I stated, ‘Oh my God, that is the man,’” he stated.
The GoPro had captured a number of totally different clips of Mr. Ragland smiling on the digicam as he documented his journey; they had been revealed by WSB-TV, an Atlanta information station. In a single scene, Mr. Ragland is driving on a zipper line in a forest. In one other, he’s dancing to Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T. (Fairly Younger Factor)” in a car parking zone. In one of many final, he’s laughing along with his pals close to a waterfall.
“That is what life is all about,” he says within the video, holding his digicam on a selfie stick and gesturing to his two pals and the view round him. “Being with brothers and sisters, we residing life. That is solely the start.”
Two years later, Mr. Abernathy’s personal footage confirmed him diving underwater close to the identical spot the place Mr. Ragland’s movies ended. He scanned the ground and noticed one thing boxy amid the rocks, highlighted by one gleaming screw. Mr. Abernathy could possibly be heard cheering as he shook the machine freed from the brown muck: It was a GoPro, with a cracked display screen.
Mr. Abernathy has constructed a YouTube and Instagram presence round scuba diving, free diving, journey running a blog and exploring along with his journey cat, a Bengal Maine coon named Yogi Bear. Whereas diving, he typically finds misplaced treasures like smartphones, wallets, sun shades and GoPros.
He stated he does his finest to return what he can, typically reporting discovered objects’ serial numbers to firms in case their house owners attempt to monitor them down in the future.
The dive in Tennessee was totally different. When he visited Foster Falls, he stated, a park ranger informed him man had misplaced his life there in 2017, and that his GoPro would possibly nonetheless be there below the water. Mr. Abernathy didn’t look forward to finding it, however he did.
As he watched the footage, he noticed an individual he might have been pals with. Each he and Mr. Ragland glided by Wealthy. Each had been entrepreneurial strivers attempting to construct lives on their very own phrases. And each had been drawn, throughout state traces, to go to the waterfall simply west of Tennessee’s Freeway 150.
It took a while for Mr. Abernathy to trace down Mr. Ragland’s household. Ultimately, he discovered a quantity for Ms. McCrear’s husband, Gary McCrear, 53. Mr. Abernathy known as — no reply — after which texted. When he stated his title, it gave Mr. McCrear pause.
“The textual content message stated, ‘Aloha, my title is Wealthy,’” Mr. McCrear stated. “Properly, proper there, I’m like, O.Ok. — Wealthy?”
However ultimately the 2 spoke, and Mr. McCrear decided that it was not a hoax. He and his spouse met Mr. Abernathy at a Panera Bread in Atlanta.
“After we sat down and talked to him, I used to be like, you may have a number of similarities to my son,” Ms. McCrear stated. “You don’t wish to punch a time clock, and Wealthy didn’t wish to try this both. You need to have the ability to journey and stay life to the fullest.”
She added that seeing the footage — Mr. Abernathy confirmed her snippets throughout that assembly — was wonderful and tough on the similar time. “I simply cried myself to sleep that evening,” she stated. “However I awakened the subsequent day and I had a smile on my face. I dreamed that I spent the day with Wealthy.”
Ms. McCrear stated Mr. Ragland was a Nationwide Guard member and former homecoming king who was additionally an actor, a member of the step crew, and an athlete who participated in monitor, soccer and basketball.
“There was no concern in him,” Mr. McCrear added.
Each stated that they had but to observe all the GoPro footage, which is greater than an hour lengthy altogether. Ms. McCrear stated she needed to take all of it in slowly. And he or she by no means desires to observe the half the place the video ends.
However what she has seen to date exhibits her son performing just like the chief he all the time was, she stated. “It was emotional,” she stated. “And it was like, oh my God, take a look at my child. It’s like he’s proper right here, like I can contact him and maintain him.”
Mr. Abernathy stated he thanked God for the prospect to ship Mr. Ragland’s footage to Mr. and Ms. McCrear. “It means a lot that I might deliver one thing completely invaluable and priceless to them,” he stated.
Susan C. Beachy contributed analysis.