Local News

Thursday, Jun 20 2013 05:01 PM

Family remembers lake drowning victim as patriotic, loving

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    By Casey Christie

    A photo of Michael May provided by the family.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Michael May's foster mom Rose Hernandez, right, and his sister Christina Harp talk about May, who drowned in Isabella Lake near Paradise Cove.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Rose Hernandez is the foster mom to Michael May, who drowned a few days ago in Isabella Lake near Paradise Cove.

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BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer jkotowski@bakersfield.com

Michael May served two tours of duty in Iraq and one in Kosovo. He wasn't afraid to die for his country.

"He loved his country very much," said Christina Harp, May's sister.

May didn't die on the battlefield, instead drowning in Isabella Lake Sunday after his kayak overturned. Harp said her brother was a good swimmer, and she's not sure whether he got caught on something in the water or what else may have led to his death.

May was 29 years old.

Late Thursday, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office released details of their search and recovery efforts.

A wide search Wednesday morning involved members of the Kern Sheriff’s Air Support Unit, volunteers from the Kern Valley and Bakersfield, K-9 units and dive search and rescue teams and others. The search was concentrated in Paradise Cove.

At noon, the sheriff’s Air 2 unit saw May’s body about 600 yards northeast of where he had last been seen.

His foster family gathered at May's foster mother's house in south Bakersfield Thursday and sharing pictures and stories of him. The family said they didn't call themselves "stepmother" or "stepsister" to May -- they were brother and sister and mother and son.

A conversation Sunday between Rose and Victor Hernandez, the couple who brought May into their home at the age of 12, reinforced just how close they were. Rose Hernandez said her husband was talking about how he loved May as if he was his own son.

"He said, 'I would take a bullet for him,'" Rose Hernandez recalled.

Forty minutes later the couple received a call saying their son was missing and presumed drowned. His body was recovered Wednesday.

Photographs in the Hernandez home show May during his years at South High. One photo shows him in his wrestling uniform, another on the baseball field.

His family said he was a very muscular, powerful person even years ago. Harp said the family was traveling on a boat in a lake when she and May were teenagers when they ran out of fuel.

Harp said May jumped over the side of the boat, held onto the railing and pulled them to shore. People in other boats were calling out to them because they couldn't believe what they were seeing.

May kept in frequent touch after he left the foster system, Rose Hernandez said. There would sometimes be periods where months would go by without hearing from him when he was overseas, but he would always get back in touch and they'd catch up on what was new in their lives.

Rose Hernandez said May joined the U.S. Marine Corps after high school and served for four years. He then joined the Army National Guard.

May was always patriotic, and took pride in serving his country, his mother said. He was an outdoorsman man who enjoyed fishing, hiking and also loved to play with his two children.

Rose Hernandez said her son now knows how much they always loved him.

"We're gonna miss him," she said.

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