On Aug. 6 the two lost their lives on the Columbia River, now their families remember them and the miracles they were a part of
CLARK COUNTY — Two people separated by 33 years of life, but united in their beliefs and their abandoned love for others, lost their lives earlier this month. The tragedy is being met with many things, but chiefly among them one thing stands out: peace.
Not just any peace, they say, but the peace of God. It has surpassed anything they could have imagined.
Their families, friends and fellow members of the community are still in shock from the accident on the Columbia River near Hood River on Aug. 6. While on a youth retreat with a group from the Ridgefield Church of the Nazarene, 44-year-old youth pastor Andrew (Andy) Inskeep, and 11-year-old Brandan Raley drowned during a rescue attempt.
“Our son and Andy were both very people, people,” said Brandan’s father, Jim Raley. “They had very deep relationships with the people they interacted with, even strangers. There are stories for both Brandan and Andy where they reached out to the lonely people, and the people that weren’t fitting in, and made sure they had a friend.”
During the retreat, 15 students and six youth leaders were cooling off in the water at Marina Beach. At one point, some of the students were standing in shallow water on a sandbar, not far from the shore. The shelf of sand started to deteriorate, and four students began to struggle in the current, according to an account written by a family friend, Amy McCarty.
Andy and his fellow youth leader, Shaun Martin, raced into the water, and were able to save two students right away; getting them safely to shore. When they went out again, they began to struggle themselves. Two students still were being pulled out. A windsurfer passing by came up to Andy to help him, but Andy told him to help one of the students.
The final moments of Andy’s life came next, as he laid it down for another.
The surfer was able to rescue the student with the help of a jet skier. Shaun at that point had made it to the final student in trouble: Brandan. As he reached him, and began to swim back against the current, he realized Brandan was unconscious and limp. He lifted him up, but was beginning to drown himself, and eventually let go involuntarily.
“Shawn began to go underwater himself and then thrust Brandon up into the air, hoping the force would help him to begin to breathe,” Jim said in Amy’s account. “Shaun was drowning and starting to lose consciousness. He held onto Brandan as long as he could.”
Shaun barely made it back to shore. Brandan’s body was recovered by the mouth of the White Salmon river nearby. At Providence Hood River Hospital, all that was humanly possible was done for him, but he was pronounced dead soon after.
Andy’s body was found hours later near milepost 54 on SR-14. He had drifted more than nine miles down river.
The students back on shore were devastated. Shaun’s wife, Trish, recalls her husband coming ashore looking quite hopeless. Even still they went into a time of prayer.
Sheriff’s deputies. Rescue workers. Strangers. Youth leaders. Students. All prayed for one another that night, on that beach.
Remembering Andy – The guy who loved life and everyone in it
Maria Swinger-Inskeep and Andy would have been together for 20 years this fall. They were married for 17 of those years. She was with a friend at an Airbnb, the first of many small miracles, when she received the call from her pastors that her husband was missing on the river.
“I just knew,” she said. “I instantly had a peace about it, because I knew that he had passed doing what he loved, which was serving the youth and literally and figuratively, saving the youth.”
Maria and Andy have been serving in ministry for years. Before coming to Ridgefield about nine months ago, Andy pastored a church in Colville. He felt called back into youth ministry though, Maria said.
“Every person was important to him,” she said.
Maria recalls two separate times when Andy was working with youth, that he sought to meet them where they were and connect to encourage. Once many years ago, a student was incredibly fond of WWE and watching the matches, she said. Andy had no personal interest in it before, but wanted to show the student he cared about them, and started watching it with them.
He would still watch it today, Maria laughed.
Another time since the pandemic began, a student was really into the Yu-Gi-Oh! card game. Andy not only learned it, but got the cards and played it with the student over Zoom calls.
Being from Indiana originally, both Maria and Andy loved basketball. In the same vein as the students he connected with, Andy used his love for the game to connect with his community. He had been coaching at Ridgefield schools prior to the pandemic, and used everything as an opportunity to connect with parents and youth alike, his wife said.
“He would do whatever he could to connect with people,” Maria said. “I can tell you that this is exactly the community where I needed to be. God put me here. If this was going to happen, I could not have thought of a better community.”
Andy loved education as well, and in his name a scholarship for the community has been created, Maria said. The Andrew J. Inskeep Memorial Scholarship fund has been set up through their church, and can be donated to in honor of the youth pastor who loved others like the one he followed.
“He loved life, and I think that people gave him life,” Maria said. “If this leads one person back to the Kingdom of Heaven, then Andy would do it all over again. And I would do it all over again, because ultimately, we want people to experience that. My ultimate goal is that his story will continue to lead people to Christ.”
Remembering Brandan – Everyone’s best friend
Jim and Kris Raley have three children. Brandan was their middle son. They live in La Center. When they came home from the hospital, their oldest son, who is 16, was upset they had not brought him with them.
In his grief, their oldest son prayed; asking God to send him just one sign that his little brother was with him in heaven, safe. “Make it rain,” he said.
As this news source can attest by our coverage, a heatwave has been ongoing throughout southwest Washington. But that night, within 30 minutes of that prayer, it rained. It rained all night, and into the morning.
Jim and his oldest son walked together in that rain the next day.
“It gives him something very tangible, and very real, that God met him there with that answer,” Kris said.
Brandan was much like Andy, according to his family. He loved others, and always sought to include those on the edges, on the outside. He gave his life to Jesus when he was only 5 years old, his mom said.
At Brandan’s Celebration of Life service, there were many of his friends that stood up to talk about him, Jim said. Many of them said they felt like they were Brandan’s best friend.
“That’s a really impressive testimony for a kid,” his dad said.
Even during the retreat, which was aptly themed “Making Your Faith Your Own,” Brandan apparently found another student who was there for the first time and had no friends. Brandan knew others there, but he decided to make this student his friend, Kris said.
“He made sure that you had fun,” Jim said. “He’d be collaborative and he didn’t care who won. He just wanted everybody in, and the more people the merrier. Everybody just loved hanging out with him because he had zero agenda about anything, and yet he always had something in mind to get the people around him excited.”
Brandan would have been 12 on Aug. 11. His family and even the community, still celebrated his birthday.
Through all the grief and difficulty, Jim and Kris have been met by many small miracles, much like the rain. They were given beautiful flowers from a local florist to adorn Brandan’s gravesite. Even the next day, when they had wilted, the florist returned with all new ones.
The company that printed the Celebration of Life programs substantially upgraded their order at no cost. They have received cards and prayers from people they do not even know, from as far away as the east coast.
Their response to many has been consistent gratitude and a message of hope.
“Brandan is with Jesus,” Kris said. “Just knowing that, it’s hard to accept initially, but knowing that without a shadow of a doubt. God rescued him. Not the way they would have wanted him to be rescued, but God took care of him. He made sure that there was somebody there with him.”
The Raley family has decided to choose hope and trust in their grief, they said.
“God is just as real and alive, as he has always been,” Jim said. “God’s grace allows us to be stable in this situation. Yeah, we lost our son, our middle son that’s right in the middle of our family and left this crater in our household, but we are still a family that loves God.”
The Raley’s have become friends with Shaun Martin, and do not fault him in the least for what happened. They are very thankful for his efforts, they said.
Amy McCarty also contributed to the story.