SEATTLE — A tragic swimming accident on Memorial Day has drawn support from across the world for the victim's family.
Ryan Payne, 14, was found unresponsive in Lake Washington on Monday afternoon. Despite immediate and valiant efforts to save him, Ryan passed away in the hospital the next day.
“It’s really difficult,” said family friend Stephen Fisher. "To see a child you’ve raised from birth, you see him so fragile and you do everything you can to protect him."
Fisher lives in the same Kenmore neighborhood as Ryan. He, along with other friends and family, helped Ryan's dad take care of the teen when Ryan’s mom, Heather Moran, was away during a deployment as an Army nurse.
Ryan and his mom shared a special connection.
In 2016, that became obvious to thousands as Moran surprised Ryan on the field at a Mariners' game. She was returning home from an 11-month deployment to the Middle East. Ryan, then age 11, was clearly overcome with joy and relief.
“If you look into Ryan’s eyes, you can see the tears running down his face – he’s so glad that she’s home safe,” Fisher said.
In the years that followed, Ryan developed into quite the athlete, making friends through soccer, football, and baseball, and he loved being outdoors.
Ryan was in eighth grade at Kenmore Middle School. Principal Bryan Stutz shared, "Ryan’s desire to help others was evident on a daily basis, and our school community was better because of it."
As news spread of his tragic death, friends and strangers alike have been sharing support for Ryan's grieving mom and sister. A GoFundMe account collected more than $45,000 in one day.
Ryan's neighbor said on Wednesday, “To be honest there’s been literally people across the country and across the world reaching out because they’ve seen Heather’s work and seen Ryan’s in the community.”
The funds will help cover medical costs and support Ryan's mom, who had returned from her most recent Army Reserve service just days before the accident, according to friends.
"I’m very proud of the spirit that Ryan embodied and I think it’s a lot like his mom and his family that the energy and spirit they bring to the community and their teams and their people around them, it’s really unforgettable,” Fisher said.
According to the GoFundMe account, "Ryan's family would like to create a scholarship in Ryan Payne's memory at his school - to support passionate and vibrant children in need, especially those in Military and Veteran families. Any extra funds will go towards setting up this scholarship."