Andrea Evans and Julie Steiskal, members of a Maple Grove church group, were sucked into the Temperance River.
SCHROEDER, MINN. -- Desperately scanning the Temperance River downstream from where two hikers had just been swept into the current Wednesday evening, the Rev. Jeff Sackett saw something that looked like driftwood spill over the last waterfall at the end of a steep, quarter-mile cascade the river makes toward Lake Superior.
But when the object bobbed to the surface, he saw that it was a the body of a young woman in a bathing suit. Then the waterfall discharged the body of a second woman.
The two were Andrea Evans, 17, of Rosemount, a member of a Maple Grove church group, and Julie Steiskal, 29, of Maple Lake, Minn., a counselor who had tried to save Evans, authorities said.
The river, swollen by an abnormally rainy spring, had picked the pair up from the pool in which they were wading.
The currents flung them a quarter-mile through a rock-strewn gorge roiling with rapids, waterfalls and one powerful eddy after another.
Ten minutes went by.
Witnesses said it was after those 10 minutes that their bodies emerged at the bottom in a pool a stone's throw from where the river passes beneath Hwy. 61 on Lake Superior's North Shore.
Sackett, his wife, Lisa, and other witnesses rushed to retrieve the two, but it was too late. The CPR performed first by them, then by emergency workers, had no effect.
"From the first time I saw them, neither moved at all," said Sackett, a Lutheran minister from Clear Lake, Minn, who was camping at Temperance River State Park with his wife and three children.
The tragedy occurred as the group of three adults and five kids from the Church of the Open Door in Maple Grove wrapped up a day hike to Carlton Peak, said Sheriff Mark Falk. The hikers had waded into a pool above the gorge to rinse off.
"It seems that ... an undercurrent started to take Andrea away," Shelly Evans, Andrea's mother, said Thursday after being briefed by the sheriff's office. "The counselor was holding onto the rock and holding onto her, and they went over the falls and into the gorge."
Falk said Steiskal had some shampoo and the two were washing up in knee-deep water. When they moved into chest-deep water, "it appears Andrea slipped, and Julie was trying to hang onto her, but unfortunately the current was too strong," he said.
Falk said the two may have died as the result of a combination of drowning and being tossed against rocks.
Counselor loved the outdoors
Steiskal's father, Don, said Julie, a receptionist at the church, "died doing what she loved and died trying to save someone else. She is with the Lord."
Steiskal said his daughter, a professional photographer and graduate of Monticello High School and University of Wisconsin-Stout, had made many similar trips. "She had a camera [on this trip]," he said. "It didn't matter what she was doing, she was taking pictures."
On her photography website, Julie Steiskal wrote, "I like the smell of rain, the sound of a creek, the infinite possibility of a lake and the dampness of dew. I like falling asleep and waking up to thunderstorms."
The three-day trip, which focused on climbing, began Tuesday and was to have ended Thursday, said Herb Bloomquist, whose Shamineau Ministries in Motley, Minn., helped Church of the Open Door organize the outing for kids "who had never been out of the Twin Cities."
"Julie was very much an outdoors person," said Bloomquist, who first knew Steiskal as a child camp participant, and later as a counselor and staff member. "She and lots of her friends ... did lots of camping and hiking."
Shelly Evans said that daughter Andrea was an honors student who would have been a senior at Trinity School at River Ridge in Eagan.
Andrea had a full scholarship to Hillsdale [Mich.] College, she said of the oldest of her three children. "She wanted to be a lawyer."
Mother and daughter worked together at the Perkins restaurant in Edina, where Andrea "had just made it to server" and would have joined her mother waiting tables.
River has claimed others
Peggy Anderson, who rents cabins near the park, said the Temperance is "a dangerous river, and you have to be careful."
Ranger Jason Peterson, operations supervisor for the park, agreed. "North Shore streams are dangerous," he said. "It's a pretty well-known fact."
There have been at least four other deaths in the river since 1996. A 22-year-old man from Finland, Minn., died in 2001 when he fell climbing down a rock face and was swept downstream; a 50-year-old man from Arbor Vitae, Wis., drowned in 2000 while saving his 8-year-old son from the current; a 48-year-old man from Remer, Minn., drowned in 1999 while rescuing his 12-year-old daughter from a strong current, and a 14-year-old Crystal boy drowned in 1996 after diving into a waterfall.
Sackett said he and his family had waded into the Temperance on past camping trips but this time stayed out after noticing how high and fast the river was.
While his 13-year-old twin daughters, Emily and Hannah, sat on the beach, he and Lisa had taken son Colin, 11, for a walk up the river when a young man ran up to them screaming for help, saying that two members of his group had been swept away.
"As soon as I heard there were people in the water, I had a bad feeling," Sackett said. "There are all kinds of very steep waterfalls in that section, with lots of twisting water and rocks, and all kinds of potholes where the water just spins. It's just very treacherous, and you knew this wasn't a good situation."
Staff writer Chris Welsch contributed to this report. firstname.lastname@example.org • 218-727-7344 email@example.com• 612-673-4482