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Family, friends grieve loss of 21-year-old hiker who died in Mission Trails Park

Max Lenail.png
Posted at 8:14 PM, Jan 31, 2021

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Family and friends gathered in La Jolla Saturday to honor and remember a 21-year-old hiker who died in Mission Trails Park.

The group prayed, hugged, cried and shared memories of Max Lenail.

"From when he was a baby, he just showed the most extraordinary empathy, and people would often say, 'how could a kid of that age have that much emotional intelligence and always know exactly what people need?" Max's mother Laurie Yoler said.

She described Max as her rock, saying he was there for her through any difficulty.

When asked what she would miss the most, she teared up and responded, "oh my goodness his laugh, his sense of humor, his always telling a joke, he had the most incredible sense of humor and he was always there to make you laugh."

Max's roommate, Jack Dicintio, knew Max for a couple years in college. He said they moved to San Diego together to explore, while classes were remote.

He said Max loved the outdoors and went to Mission Trails for a run Friday morning around 10:30.

"He hadn’t responded to my texts, and it started getting late, I knew something was wrong," he said looking down.

Yoler said Max slipped while crossing the San Diego River on Visitor Center Loop and hit his head.

She said 1,700 people showed up Saturday to search for him, "It just restored my faith in humanity. It's been a tough time to be in a mask and be worried about all of our loved ones and the terrible pandemic and to have this outpouring of love and support during this incredibly difficult time was extraordinary."

Police said one of those volunteers found Max in the river.

When Dicintio got the call, he said "the pit of my stomach just dropped, I started feeling lightheaded... It took everything I had to not just pull over or crash the car, because I was so distraught."

"His death was so tragic, but I went by this morning with my family to go walk the trail, and I was watching other hikers slipping where he slipped so if there’s any way to rectify that situation so no one else hurts themselves that would be my greatest wish and prayer." Yoler said.

She hopes a bridge or other structure could be installed to protect other hikers.

Yoler and her family put up a climbing rope Sunday to help, according to a friend of the family, but a ranger told them it had to come down because it was a liability.

The river crossing is dangerous when the water is low. Friday there was not only a huge storm that brought rain, but hail as well.

Helping people was Max's dream. His mom said he wanted to be a doctor and he was in his senior year of college.

"I just want everybody to know how good he was and that it’s such a loss for everyone." Dicintio said.

Both Yoler and Dicintio said Max was a fan of most outdoor activities, including rock climbing, mountain biking and hiking.

To honor his memory, family and friends walked along La Jolla Shores and picked up trash along the beach.