Seattle clings to hope for two 19-year-olds missing after Nepal earthquake

Seattle clings to hope for two 19-year-olds missing after Nepal earthquake
Sydney Schumacher’s mother, Diane Schumacher, standing at right, and Bailey Meola’s mother, Rochelle Brown, seated, at a Seattle vigil for the pair. (Maria L. La Ganga / Los Angeles Times)

First came an urgent message on the neighborhood social networking site, five days after the massive earthquake shook Nepal, killing thousands:

"Tie a yellow ribbon for Sydney. Tomorrow at 1 p.m...Community effort, all welcome!"


The ribbons, wrote organizer Amy D. Truex, signify hope for the return of Sydney Schumacher and Bailey Meola, 19-year-old high school friends missing in Nepal's Langtang Valley. They have not been heard from since April 19, six days before the quake.

Up and down Madison Street, ribbons began to appear. In front of Cactus, a Mexican restaurant where Bill Gates occasionally dines al fresco. Near Howard Schultz's neighborhood Starbucks. From Lake Washington, glittery in the spring sunshine, west to the home of the Russian consul general.

Then on Friday night, more than 200 neighbors and friends gathered on the lake shore, holding candles in the fading light, struggling with hope, fear and verb tenses. As in, "Bailey is someone who was really passionate about experiencing new things." A pause. "No, is passionate."

Is passionate.

The Schumacher family lives in this graceful Madison Park neighborhood, lush with the reds and pinks of rhododendrons in full bloom, now punctuated with pervasive symbols of pain. Ribbons drooped from recent rain. Posters invited all comers to the candlelight vigil and begged in red letters: #HoldOntoHope.

The Meola family lives close by in Seattle's Central District. Bailey Meola and Sydney Schumacher graduated together from Garfield High School and were spending a gap year traveling the world. They jetted off in February on separate journeys and met up in Thailand on April 12.

Destination? Katmandu. Then the Langtang Valley and Kyanjin Gompa monastery.

They had planned to plant a Seattle Seahawks "12th Man" flag high up in the Himalayas in honor of the hometown football team, which won the Super Bowl the year the fast friends graduated.

Today, Schumacher's and Meola's names are on a master missing list posted on Facebook and dedicated to the casualties of Langtang Valley, one of the regions hit hardest by the 7.8 earthquake and avalanches that crashed down afterward.

There were 60 names on the list as of Saturday afternoon, including 41 Nepalese and three Americans: Schumacher, Meola and Dawn Habash, a 57-year-old from Maine on her fourth trip to Nepal.

Friday night's vigil was dedicated to the missing and their loved ones, the adventurers and the trekkers, the researchers and the teachers, the pilgrims and the students — everyone who was touched by the April 25 disaster, Scott Pattison told the somber group.

Pattison, a family friend, said he had watched Schumacher grow up here in Madison Park. When his son outgrew his baby jogger, it was handed down to the Schumacher family and became the adventurous little girl's main mode of transportation.

"Please, for the families — no words, no handshakes, no hugs," Pattison said, calling for a moment of silence and then wondering aloud: "Why are we here tonight? What are we supposed to do?"

Lines of luminaria bisected the grassy park on the west bank of Lake Washington. Tibetan prayer flags were strung from the bath house to the lifeguard stand. Schumacher's and Meola's parents sat on park benches amid the glow of candles and listened as Pattison greeted the crowd, equal parts bewildered, grief-stricken and clinging to possibility.

"We are here," Pattison said, "to hope together."

Meola's mother, Rochelle Brown, holding a lighted taper and wearing a green and blue Seahawks jersey, could only muster a brief, "Thank you."

But Diane Schumacher stood on a lakeside bench, Brown at her side, and talked about their courageous daughters and the last two difficult weeks.

"I am in awe of the magnitude of the course of nature that made the earthquake and the landslides and the avalanches, resulting in so much loss of life and even more loss of home, food and safety," she said, fighting back tears.

"But I am also in awe of the course of support, caring and love that has surrounded us in the hours after the earthquake," she said. "I can truly say we feel the love."

And as the waves lapped on the shoreline behind her, Schumacher pleaded with the crowd to understand, forgive and know that every kindness shown — every plate of cookies, every bouquet of flowers, every email, every text — had been noticed. And needed.

"I wish I knew every language in the world," she said. "Because from one of them I might find a word that could adequately convey the depth and breadth and intensity of our gratitude.

"So I can only say, thank you. Thank you. Thank you."

Twitter: @marialaganga