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Eyewitness to Yosemite tragedy sets record straight
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Metra Azar-Salem said Rabina Badal was a hero in the traumatizing tragedy at Yosemite National Park’s Vernal Fall Tuesday.

That was the message that she wanted to personally relay to the 21-year-old Manteca resident’s parents and family on Thursday before her family headed back home to Orange County.

“My family and I were sitting right behind the victims of the Vernal Fall tragedy in Yosemite on Tuesday. So far, many stories that have been written are incorrect. My family and I were eyewitnesses and (the erroneous reports have) disturbed us greatly,” Azar-Salem said in an e-mail and telephone interview with the Bulletin Thursday.

“We have been up all night praying and we wish to share with the families what we saw in those last few moments of their kids’ lives. I would like to share with (the Badals) what a hero their daughter was and that she actually tried to save the male who fell in first, not vice versa,” said Azar-Salem.

She said, “I was sitting very close to them, directly behind them before they fell in.” She and her family had just climbed the fall’s famous Mist Trail and were getting ready to have lunch when it happened.

“I looked up and a boy was sitting on a rock and his foot slipped. The girl stood up and put her arm around him. My husband and I and other relatives didn’t see the third person,” Azar-Salem said.

News media accounts of what happened, including stories from the Associated Press, indicate that “Badal slipped, and one of the men fell in trying to grab her. The other, who had been taking photos, tried to grab them and slipped in too.”

The two men were identified as Hormiz David, 22, who was studying music production at Modesto Junior College, and Ninos Yacoup, 27, who was a student studying chemistry at California State University, Stanislaus. All three were part of a youth group at St. George’s Church in Ceres who went on a hiking trip to Yosemite on Tuesday. The church is part of the Diocese of California of the Assyrian Church of the East.

Badal, a 2008 graduate of Manteca High School, was a nursing student at the University of San Francisco where she was set to graduate in six months.

According to the latest update from the Associated Press, “the three college students are presumed dead, and a search for their bodies continues, though park officials said they might remain hidden under boulders until fall when the water – now gushing at four times its average rate for this time of year – recedes.”

At the crowded prayer vigil Wednesday night at the church in Ceres, “Tony and Virginia Badal supported each other as they walked sobbing into the church.” Both were “visibly sickened by grief, paralyzed by the reality of the terrifying manner of death of their daughter and her two friends,” added the AP story.

Family members and friends who were at the Badal home in East Manteca Thursday said an official Facebook page has been created on behalf of the Badal family. The message posted on Thusday read: “As all of you can imagine, we have been overwhelmed with emotion the past few days. We have had an outpour(ing) of friends, relatives and the community wanting to be in touch with us. We decided to make this page to reach out to everyone who has given us support in our time of need as well as everyone who would like to simply know real information about how our family is coping.”

The page went on to add, “We will periodically post our family thoughts, prayers and updates. Please respect our privacy and use only this page to communicate with us. We really urge you to leave only positive comments and thoughts on here. We will be reading comments and thoughts and we hope to gain strength by doing so. We have faith in God that He will protect Ramina Badal, Ninos Yacoub and Nenos David as well as their families during this time.”

The message concluded with a request to “pray with us and focus” on the following scripture verses:

Matthew 18:20 – “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Mark 10:27 – “With God, all things are possible.”

Under standard procedure, signs in Yosemite campgrounds and at the bottom of the trail leading to Vernal Fall warn that water is moving swiftly.

In addition, a park newspaper given out at the gate warns about the water hazards.

Vernal Fall features a guard railing and a metal safety barricade marked with a warning and universal no-swimming icon. The victims in this week’s tragedy had climbed over the barricade before they fell.

Park officials said Thursday they have no plans to add new warning signs or other protections following the deaths.