A 26-year-old mother who died after being rescued from a Courtenay river on Friday was on maternity leave from her job at North Island College, where she is being remembered by co-workers as a sweet and friendly colleague.
Veronika Sophie Weaver of Comox was identified Monday by the B.C. Coroners Service as the woman who was rescued from the frigid Puntledge River Friday afternoon, about an hour after her seven-month-old son was rescued.
Weaver, who worked in accounts payable at North Island College’s finance department, was rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Comox and pronounced dead at 6:55 p.m.
Her son, Grant, is clinging to life in critical condition at B.C. Children’s Hospital in Vancouver.
At the baby’s side is father Doug Weaver, a maintenance worker for Comox Valley School District. District superintendent Sherry Elwood said Monday the tragedy is “unimaginable” and colleagues are heartbroken for the family. Baby Grant is the couple’s only child.
North Island College spokeswoman Susan Auchterlonie said she has good memories of the young mother.
“Veronika was a lovely person, wonderful colleague, just a pleasure to be around,” Auchterlonie said. “She will be missed dearly.”
“Our hearts and thoughts are with the family,” the college said in a statement.
Prior to her job at the college, Veronika Weaver worked at Ryzuk Geotechnical Engineering in Victoria and did co-op terms for the B.C. government, one as a corporate memory analyst at the Environment Ministry and another as a research assistant at Forests, according to her Linkedin profile.
Comox Valley RCMP said they do not know how or why the mother and her baby ended up in the water. The woman’s vehicle was parked off road. Police have concluded that the two were not pushed. The B.C. Coroners Service said it will investigate all possibilities, “which could include anything from a tragic fall to post-partum depression [and] psychosis.”
On Friday, first responders raced to the scene about 2:30 p.m. after 911 calls from witnesses reported a mother and baby floating in the Puntledge River, near the Condensory Bridge.
“Every police officer I’ve ever known was in attendance,” said Paul Berry of Comox Valley Search and Rescue. “Firemen were lining the banks of the shore in a huge rapid response.”
At least two people had already failed in their attempts to grab and pull the mother and baby from the water.
Witnesses reported seeing the baby floating face down and the mother bobbing in and out of sight in the rushing water. “It was very chaotic,” Berry said.
Within about 25 minutes, the baby was spotted and pulled from the water. Rescuers performed CPR. The child was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Courtenay and then flown to B.C. Children’s Hospital in Vancouver.
Searchers continued to look for the mother.
With the noise of helicopter blades thumping overhead, boat propellers churning up the water and shouts from people on the shore, emergency responders had to work hard to stay focused to follow their training, Berry said.
An RCMP helicopter spotted the woman submerged deep in a slow-moving and wide part of the river. At 4:12 p.m., she was pulled into a police boat.
“Only from the helicopter with an overhead vantage point would you be able to spot her against the bottom of the river,” said Berry.
The water was murky and a cold 6 C, he said. Berry was in his drysuit, snorkel and mask. “Only when I was right over top of her was I able to view her.”
Efforts were made to revive the woman all the way to hospital, Berry said.
“We like to think there’s always a chance, but she was in the water close to an hour and 45 minutes, so the chances are remote, but you do everything you can do,” he said.
On Saturday, a day after the tragedy, Doug Weaver posted to Facebook a photo of his wife and child with the words: “I miss you Veronika — RIP.”