Alex Head Update: Body Recovered From Colorado River ID'd as Missing Teen

Update: The Mesa County coroner's office has identified a body found in the Colorado River as Alex Head, a seventeen-year-old who'd been the subject of a search that went on for several days; see our previous coverage below.

The cause of death: accidental drowning.

Head was reported missing on Wednesday, July 6; his body was recovered the following Sunday, July 10, and ID'd on Tuesday, July 12.

Prior to his disappearance, Head had been swinging from a rope into the river with a group of friends. He had not been wearing a flotation device — a fact that inspired a spokesperson with the Mesa County Sheriff's Office, which led the search, to offer important safety reminders about Colorado rivers, particularly at a time, like now, when the waters are running high.

A GoFundMe page was launched shortly before the body was found. Its introduction reads in part:
Alex Head is a very loved brother and son. On July 6th his family was hit with an unthinkable tragedy when 17 year old Alex was pulled away by the Colorado River. For the past three days, there have been search parties looking up and down the river hoping to find Alex. There are four other children that need to be taken care of and our hope is for all donations to help the family with any costs that may come and to help with income for any time off of work that their parents must take. If you can't donate, then please share and send your love and prayers. Thanks so much!
At this writing, nearly $3,000 has been pledged toward a goal of $20,000.

Among the comments shared on the page is this one:
I will remember Alex as a young man who would stand and speak for what he knew was right. He was kind and gentle, and made a difference in many lives. I will always admire his courage and integrity, and am so very sorry for this loss that will touch all who knew him.
A memorial service for Head has been scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, July 20, 2016, at the Moss Performing Arts Center, on the campus of Colorado Mesa University. Continue for our previous coverage.

Original post, 5:47 a.m. July 8: The death of Haley Clarke, nineteen, over the 4th of July weekend has been linked by authorities to adventurism. A San Juan County undersheriff says Clarke lost her life after "jumping the falls" — the Cascade waterfall, a site ballyhooed on social media and beyond by extreme-sports lovers.

In contrast, Alex Head, a seventeen-year-old student at Palisade High School, went missing while taking part in an activity that's long been thought to be a safe summertime tradition — swinging on a rope with a group of friends before leaping into the Colorado River just outside Grand Junction.

At this writing, searchers have been looking for Head since shortly after he vanished under the water on Wednesday, July 6. Megan Terlecky, spokeswoman with the Mesa County Sheriff's Office, terms this action a "recovery" operation, as opposed to a rescue.

If the worst comes to pass, Head will be the latest victim in a shocking string of water-related deaths in Colorado this summer — and at least the second in Mesa County over the past couple of months. In May, as we reported, Austin Worbington, an athlete at Colorado Mesa University, died while swimming at the Potholes, a popular natural swimming spot near Glade Park, on Colorado's Western Slope. And that's not counting the deaths of Micah Schmidt and Sarah Collison, who drowned after crashing their car into a Grand Junction canal.

Statewide, the number of drownings looks as if it will rival, if not surpass, the total deaths at ski resorts during the most recent season. High waters fueled by runoff from a wet winter and spring would seem to be the likeliest culprits, but not necessarily in this case.

"The river right now is still running fast," Terlecky concedes, "but it is not nearly at its peak — and when it was at its peak, it wasn't nearly as high as it's sometimes been in the past."

So why have there been so many water-related deaths this year? Terlecky surmises that it may simply be a large number of folks looking to have fun without thinking through the risks they're taking.

"People have to remember that rivers can be dangerous," she says. "And a lot more hidden dangers lurk in them than a lot of people realize."

Terlecky provides the basics about what happened in the incident involving Head, who still hasn't been officially ID'd, though friends and family, including those he was with at the time he was lost, have confirmed his identity.

"About 5:30, a seventeen-year-old male was seen in the Colorado River just upstream of Corn Lake, which is in Clifton, outside Grand Junction," she notes. "He was seen in the water calling for help, and then he wasn't seen again. He was swinging from a rope into the river, which may explain why he didn't have a life jacket or a flotation device.

"That's when our search-and-rescue team started searching the river. They canvassed an area from 32 and 1/2 Road to 29 Road, and we used four boats: two from the sheriff's office, one from the Grand Junction Fire Department and one from the Clifton Fire Department. Swift-water swimmers were also on standby.

"Then, about two hours in, we transitioned into a recovery mode. We started searching undercurrents and brush area until dusk. And on Thursday, we started again."

Additional personnel joined the search on day two, and a helicopter was also deployed, as seen in the following sheriff's-office video.

Thus far, however, there's been no sign of Head.

But the sheriff's office and other agencies will be back at it again today.

In the meantime, items about Head, who played football and wrestled for Palisade High, continue to pop up online.

One relative who took to Facebook posted the following note on Thursday:
This is Alex Head, my great nephew. He has been missing since 5:30 p.m. yesterday when the current of the Colorado river pulled him under. If you are local and know anyone who has sonar fishing equipment that you are willing to loan to help find him please let me know.... Help bring Alex home to his family.
Other messages strike more of a memorial tone. Here's one example....
Alex Head was a student at our school. known by many, loved by many. He will be missed forever in my heart and in others as well.
...and another:
R.I.P Alex Head. I'll always remember the first time we met and u took me out side behind Palisade High school to play 21 questions. You were being nice and funny so thank u for that. Meant a lot. You will be loved always and forever. Prayers for your family and friends.
The incident during which Head disappeared can't be directly equated to every drowning in Colorado this season, Terlecky warns. "Every incident has its own unique circumstances."

But in her view, there are some universal truths when it comes to hitting Colorado waters.

"People think they can just pop into a tube and jump into the river and everything will be okay," she allows. "But an inner tube isn't going to be safe enough by itself. You have to wear a life jacket. And you're not supposed to swim in canals. There's a reason why there are signs around them saying, 'No swimming allowed.' We don't do that to be mean. We do that because we want to keep you safe."

Moreover, she continues, "introducing alcohol or drugs into the mix makes any situation exponentially more dangerous."

Other tips from Terlecky:

"Before you even think about going out to recreate, do some research. Know where you're going and learn about the safety things you need to do ahead of time.

"If you're going on a boat, wear a life jacket. If you're going on a river, make sure the flotation device you have is approved for the class of river you're going into — that's it's sturdy enough to protect you while you have fun.

"We don't want to deter people from having fun," she emphasizes. "But we want you to come home at the end of the day."

The search for Alex Head is expected to resume at daybreak.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts