SAN FRANCISCO — Howard Kuljian and his family were out for a walk on a damp, overcast morning at Big Lagoon beach, playing fetch with their dog Fran as 10-foot surf churned the water just feet away like a washing machine.
Signs near the beach warned of “sneaker waves,” the kind that suddenly roar ashore.
Kuljian tossed a stick that took the dog down to the water’s edge, and in an instant, authorities said, a wave swallowed it, setting off a nightmarish scramble.
“Everything kind of snowballed from there,” Coast Guard Lt. Bernie Garrigan said.
Kuljian’s 16-year-old son, Gregory, ran to save the dog, only to be captured by the surging surf himself. Kuljian, 54, followed, and then his wife, Mary Scott, 57. On shore, their 18-year-old daughter, Olivia, and Gregory’s girlfriend could only watch.
Both parents’ bodies were later recovered, but the boy — presumed dead — is still missing.
The dog eventually made it back to shore.
News of Saturday’s tragedy shocked many in the small college town of Arcata on the rough Northern California coastline about 280 miles north of San Francisco.
Students at Gregory’s high school wore green in his memory Monday.
By late afternoon, more than 1,300 people “liked” a Facebook page set up by the teenager’s friends called “Wear Green for Geddie” — using his nickname. Dozens tweeted tributes with the hash-tag #WearGreenForGeddie.
“I will always remember him no matter how long,” wrote Emmalaya Owen on the Facebook page. “Especially how he was such an upbeat happy person or how he tried to put up ‘Be Happy’ propaganda posters he drew around school.”
Others were trying to come to terms with the deaths.
His sister graduated last year.
“He was just a friendly guy, and everyone who knew him liked him, and his family was very close,” said Day Robins, a high school senior. She said Gregory and his family were active in school athletics and sailing.
At Big Lagoon beach, a short drive from Arcata, signs posted near the parking lot warned beachgoers not to turn their back to the surf and to pay special attention to sneaker waves.