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Descent into the MAELSTROM
John Ed Bradley
December 08, 1997
Last spring, when University of Hawaii kicker Shannon Smith took some friends to slide down his favorite waterfall, an idyllic day ended in a tragedy that still haunts many of those who knew him
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December 08, 1997

Descent Into The Maelstrom

Last spring, when University of Hawaii kicker Shannon Smith took some friends to slide down his favorite waterfall, an idyllic day ended in a tragedy that still haunts many of those who knew him

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The morning after the sighting, Devasiva met with 71-year-old Gurudeva, the leader of the monastery. The boy recounted in detail what he and his friend had witnessed, and above his long white beard Gurudeva gave a knowing smile. "A woman named Rosemary Smith saw the same star," he said. "You must phone and tell her."

Gurudeva is a longtime friend of the Smith family. Many years ago, on the grounds of the monastery, Norbert and his sons planted a small forest of rudraksha trees, which Hindus consider sacred. In recent years Shannon's older brother Greg, a chiropractor, has treated the monks who live there. "There's every indication that since Shannon passed into the next world trying to save people, he'll be born again with healing powers," Gurudeva told the family after Shannon's funeral. "Since everybody loved him so much, then it makes sense he'll be born into his brother Greg's family, as Dr. Greg's son."

When told about Shannon's physical resemblance to his sister Jennifer and asked if the two siblings might have been one and the same, the old Hindu thought for a moment, then said, "That may very well be. It happens all the time."

Gurudeva's words have brought solace to Rosemary and Norbert. So, too, have the stories told by other friends who believe Shannon is still among them. Terri Cordell says Shannon appeared to her as a beautiful stag deer. Cordell, 38, describes herself as Shannon's hanai, or spiritual sister, and says she's been "like a daughter" to Rosemary and Norbert for 20 years. Early this summer, while vacationing in Colorado, Cordell sensed that Shannon would soon present himself in the form of a magnificent animal, and suddenly there he was, standing with a great spread of antlers in an open field as she drove down a lonely mountain road. "I felt it was his way of showing he was here, of saying, 'Don't be sad, I'm still with you,' " says Cordell.

Not everyone who loved Shannon has been blessed with such visits. Others wrestle with his death in a private agony so monstrous that on occasion it leaves them weeping, too exhausted to sleep. Law turns off the TV whenever an image of flowing water comes on the screen. Baggs, though still a friend of the Smith family, steers clear of Rosewood, not wishing to revisit the day it became his terrible duty to inform Norbert that his son was dead. Last spring, whenever Chris Shinnick looked at the stream that runs near his apartment building, he grew weak with fear. For weeks Tim Carey couldn't shake the sensation of water boiling over him and pulling him down.

Shawn Smith still has powerful bouts of guilt for having turned down an invitation to join the hikers that day. He believes his presence at Slippery Slide would have prevented Shannon's death. Another brother, Ryan, 24, grew so depressed this summer that he fled to Norway for three weeks. And Fred vonAppen, tormented by the memory, blames himself for what happened. "I spend my days searching for answers: Was there something I could have done to prevent this?" he says. "I see it over and over again in my mind. For as long as I live this will never go away for me."

Curiously, the person who appears least traumatized is Cody. Now seven, he seems a happy child without a haunted understanding of the fragility of life. "I'm sure he expects Shannon to show up at practice one day and start kicking the ball," says Thea. At night she sits on the edge of her son's bed and listens as he prays in the dark. "God, bless Shannon and his family," Cody says.

He is in water now, and she sits close by, watching as he drums his small, knotted hands against the surface. It is 1977. The pool's jets stir the water in a languid motion, the currents spinning him around.

Shannon belongs to her, and Rosemary can't help but admire his downy white hair, his perfect little form. He is beautiful.

She has fitted him in a floating device with a sling seat, and so feels confident of his safety. The phone rings, and she runs off to get it. How long does she have her back turned to him? No more than a few seconds. But when Rosemary looks back he is underwater; his feet where his head should be, his head no longer visible.

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