Family: ‘Freak accident’ led to 21-year-old’s death at Mission Trails

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SAN DIEGO — The body of a missing 21-year-old was recovered at Mission Trails Saturday and family believes a freak accident led to his death.

“He was a very seasoned athlete and outdoorsman, and that was a huge part of his life — rock climbing, bouldering, running,” Ben Lenail said of his son Max.

Max Lenail was last seen in North Park Friday before he headed to Mission Trails Regional Park for a run. He was reported missing and San Diego police asked for the public’s help in finding him Saturday.

The San Diego Sheriff’s Department search and rescue team, park rangers and community members joined police in scouring the park for signs of Lenail before police said hikers found a body in the water.

Authorities had a San Diego River foot crossing north of the Jackson Drive and Mission Gorge Road intersection blocked as firefighters and lifeguards helped with recovery. Official identification of the body was pending the medical examiner’s report.

“He knew the wilderness, but he probably slipped and then hit his head and died of a combination of head trauma and hypothermia,” Ben Lenail said. “The best way to describe it is a freak accident.”

In addition to an outdoors enthusiast, Ben Lenail described his son as someone who was caring, and passionate about helping others. He was a pre-med student at Brown University and was set to graduate in May.

“He had an incredibly generous, caring nature and he was going to spend decades healing and helping other human beings,” Ben Lenail said.

He said family and friends came from all over California to help search for Max and support his family.

“It was so miraculous and heartwarming, and life-affirming to have so many people come because our son was lost and needed to be found,” he said, adding that despite his grief and anger, he feels thankful.

“My heart is full of love for my family, and for him, and the fact that he was such a luminous presence for 21 years.”

Mission Trails Regional Park has 60 miles of trails and is located at 1 Father Junipero Serra Trail near San Carlos in East County.

A strong winter storm brought heavy rain, hail and snow to San Diego County late Thursday into Friday, with showers lingering through the afternoon. A flash flood watch was in place for the county’s inland valleys, the mountains and coastal areas.

Police announced the body believed to be Max Lenail’s was recovered Saturday but officers have not released information about what led to his death.

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