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Freed-Hardeman student presumed drowned on mission trip

A Spring Break mission trip turned tragic Wednesday when a Freed-Hardeman University student apparently drowned in the waters off the coast of the Dominican Republic.
Shane Ruiz, 19, was part of a team of students from the Henderson, Tenn., university that traveled to the Caribbean nation. The group conducted a vacation Bible school program at a children’s home in Bobita. Cory and Laura Lamb, Freed-Hardeman alumni and missionaries in the Dominican Republic, assisted the group.
Team members were relaxing at the beach after their final day of work at the children’s home, Laura Lamb said. Authorities had placed a red flag on the beach, cautioning swimmers about dangerous waves and currents.
About 4 p.m. Wednesday Ruiz and two other students were walking along the beach in knee-deep water when they were hit by a large wave, Lamb said. Apparently, the undertow dragged Ruiz out to sea.
Team members and Dominicans on the beach spent the next three hours attempting to rescue the student, but were unable to reach him. Authorities cleared the beach after the incident. As of noon Friday, officials had not recovered Ruiz’s body.
“The grief and hurt we feel now is almost unbearable,” Laura Lamb wrote in a Friday blog post. “Our hearts are broken, our spirits weak, our bodies physically exhausted, our pain overwhelming.”
Ruiz, who came to Freed-Hardeman from Olive Branch, Miss., was a freshman mass media major. He came from a family dedicated to mission work, Lamb said.
The Lambs spent Wednesday afternoon on the phone with the U.S. embassy in the Dominican Republic arranging for the recovery of Ruiz’s body. Ruiz’s parents arrived in the Dominican Republic Thursday and were met by U.S. embassy officials at the airport. Ruiz’s brother, Michael, was expected to arrive midday Friday, Lamb said.
Officials at Freed-Hardeman sent a van to the Nashville, Tenn., airport to pick up mission team members when they returned to the U.S. Thursday night. The university will provide counseling for students who request it, spokeswoman Caley Newberry said.
“Of course, the entire Freed-Hardeman community mourns the loss of Shane,” Newberry said. The university’s president, Milton Sewell, said that Ruiz and other students demonstrated a caring spirit by devoting their Spring Break to the wellbeing of others.
“There is always a risk when our students travel during Spring Break,” Sewell said. “On Friday before they leave we have a special prayer for the groups traveling on mission trips. The entire FHU family grieves for the Ruiz family and the loss of Shane.”
On her blog, Laura Lamb asked for prayers as she and fellow missionaries attempt to help the Ruiz family cope with the loss.
“Satan is trying so hard to get to all of us right now and we are standing strong no matter how hard it is,” Lamb wrote. “Please pray for the missionaries here as we are doing the best we can to take care of the Ruiz family, answer their questions and help them find answers.”
For updates and more information, see the Lambs’ blog at http://web.mac.com/coryandlaurabeth/Site/Blog/Blog.html
Posted March 21, 2008

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