OREM, Utah (AP) — A 22-year-old Boy Scout leader who drowned saving a struggling young boy during a practice exercise in a Utah pond was a lifelong Scout himself who loved helping kids learn the wilderness skills he treasured, his family said Thursday.
Younger children had always looked up to Wesley Robert Kratzer, who had blonde hair, a wide smile and dreams of becoming a successful entrepreneur.
“He was very nurturing, compassionate, like he looked through your eyes and went straight to your soul,” his sister Lindy Kratzer said.
Her younger brother, a newlywed, was one of three adults helping three 11-and-12-year-old boys learn swimming skills to advance in the scouting program Wednesday night when one of the kids started to struggle in the water, police said. He had only been a Scout leader for a couple of months.
Wesley Kratzer pushed the boy to safety then dropped under the water and disappeared, said Salem police Chief Brad James.
“We don’t know if it was fatigue, we don’t know if he cramped up. We may never know,” James said. Members of the group were not wearing life jackets, police said.
Divers searched the murky pond by feel for nearly an hour before finding the body under about 12 feet (4 meters) of water.
On shore, his anguished family waited, holding out hope because they knew he was a good swimmer and a skilled outdoorsman who had swam in the pond before.
“We were hoping until the last moment that they would find him, that he went somewhere, maybe to the car, or to the restroom, that he would be found,” said his stepmother, Irina Kratzer.
He dreamed about living in the middle of nowhere and surviving off the land, though his polite, gregarious nature also made him a natural salesman. He used to buy ice-cream bars and to sell them to women in the neighborhood with a price tag $5 apiece.
He wanted to become wealthy so he could support a future family with his wife Diana; they married in February.
His death rescuing a child makes a tragic kind of sense for the young man who always looked out for others, family members said.
“Yet another good deed. That happened to be where he needed to be,” said his father Tay Kratzer.
The Boy Scout who was struggling in the water is safe, though the troop is mourning.
“They’re really shook up,” James said.
Medical examiners will perform an autopsy.
Salem Pond is a popular summer spot about 60 miles (100 kilometers) south of Salt Lake City, complete with picnic tables and pavilions, bordered by mountains in the distance.
There have been a handful of drownings there over the past two decades.