These are the emotions that flowed through my veins when I opened up the Chico Enterprise-Record article confirming Brett Olson’s death.
The 20-year-old Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student had been missing since Sunday Sept. 2. He was last seen midafternoon at Beer Can Beach among the thousands of people who participated in the Labor Day float. His body was discovered a week later, Sept. 9, by fishermen downstream of Beer Can Beach.
All week people were posting to a Facebook group titled “Let’s Bring Brett Home”. Posts on the site included possible sightings of Brett, organized search parties of students and volunteers, and shared tweets from celebrities on Twitter using the hashtag #findbrettolson. His brother and parents even posted on the page, thanking the Facebook community for all its support.
It was a jaw-dropping experience to see people all over the nation come together on Facebook to do everything humanly possible to find him. The group reached 90,000 members in only five days, a perfect example of how powerful social media can be.
It warmed my soul to see the Chico community respond to Brett’s disappearance with warmth, hope and action.
But for some reason, I feel personally responsible as a Chico State student. I feel like I should have prevented this from happening somehow. Even though I am not a float participant or advocate, I feel guilty. Unfortunately, I couldn’t have personally done anything differently to prevent this tragedy.
Chico State President Paul Zingg sent an email to students explaining that last year a bill was proposed to ban alcohol on the river for summer holidays, but was not passed by the needed four-fifths vote. He said that he believes this law should be looked at again, and I agree.
A lot of people are blaming this tragedy on the fact Brett was not from Chico, implying visitors can’t handle Chico and so on. But what it comes down to, is that this could have happened to anyone on the river that day. Brett could have just as easily been your classmate, your friend, or your sibling.
Speaking from experience, it’s a horrible, deep, gut-wrenching, unfair, dark and indescribable feeling when a friend dies. Now is the time to take action to protect our friends.
Thousands of people, a strong river current, and alcohol have proven to be a fatal combination. We should do everything we can to ban alcohol from the river on Labor Day weekend to prevent a catastrophe like this from ever happening again.
My heart goes out to friends and family of Brett Olson. Chico will forever be sending love your way.
Video: Candlelight Vigil held in Brett’s hometown, Lafayette, CA
Facebook: Remembering Brett Olson