A Louisiana family has organized a search party to find their 21-year-old relative, who went missing after falling off his tube in the Payette River in Emmett, a small city about 20 miles northwest of Boise. The family is determined to start their own mission after the sheriff’s office couldn’t find their loved one.
The Gem County Sheriff’s Department said Everette Jackson, a Lafourche Parish native, fell into the raging river on Saturday, June 11 around 4:40 p.m.
The young man was last seen near the Washington Street Bridge and SnapChatting his excursion for his social media friends, authorities confirm before stating a team was deployed to find him within hours of his disappearance, around 8 p.m. that evening.
According to family members, Jackson, a college basketball athlete at Louisiana State University’s Eunice campus, went tubing with his girlfriend Gracie Kolka and three of her friends on the river. During their trip, after they missed an exit from the river, the two struggled to manage the tube.
Local reports said the water levels in the river were especially high because of recent heavy rain, rising two feet between Thursday through Saturday. The capacity of the river over the weekend was a little over 8 feet deep and flowed at 10,200 cubic feet per second. Based on federal records dating back 96 years, this historic rush was almost four times faster than the average speed for this time of year.
The temperature of the water was also around 55 degrees, hypothermia levels, making survival in an accident slim.
Kolka said in one account once they fell over, she was able to pull herself up to the dock with a branch, but Jackson, who was wearing a pink shirt and short outfit and black crocs with a Space Jam logo, could not follow her lead. She said he tried to hold on to the tube, but essentially was swept away by a raging current.
This is the story shared with Jackson’s mother by authorities and later shared with the family members.
“They missed their exit, and the currents were coming,” Megan recounted what was communicated to her. “And she tried to grab a tree branch and hold on and grab him with her other hand, but the currents were too rough, and they pulled him in the other direction.”
Unfortunately, Jackson was not wearing a life jacket when he fell under.
Another story circulated is that Kolka shared with a friend Jackson slipped when they were trying to get out of the river and dropped one croc in the water. He bent over to reach it but then dropped his phone. He fell into the water, in this account, trying to retrieve his cell.
A witness called 911 and said he saw both collegiates in the water struggling but at one point Kolka was safe on the dock, while the young Black man floated away.
The family decided early on to travel to Idaho from Louisiana. One of Jackson’s sisters, Nikki Lyons, told WDSU New Orleans, “It’s not easy. I never experienced anything like this here. All I want is my little brother and I’m going at any cost. I’m going. I just ask that anybody send their prayers, send them our way. His name is Everette Jackson,” she said. “He’s in Boise, Idaho, and we’re going to get him.”
Due to bad weather in Treasure Valley, it took a couple of days before the family could come to the Gem State to support the efforts launched by local law enforcement. Despite him going missing over the weekend, the family arrived in Idaho around 1 a.m. on Tuesday, June 14.
Breon Lyons, the man’s niece, was a part of the group of relatives that came from their hometown to look for him, believing he is still alive. She said in an interview with Idaho News 6, “When it’s your family member, no one is going to look for him like you would look for him.”
“We were so far away in Louisiana to where we couldn’t help him. We weren’t there to help him,” Breon continued.
The sheriff’s department said they used several tools and vehicles while searching for Jackson, including jet skis, boats, ATVs, drones and helicopters. However, the high flows and murky waters severely challenged the search crew.
“I’ve got two river boats out on the river searching the banks as we speak,” Gem County Sheriff Donnie Wunder said. “We’ve got a couple of spotters who are looking up and down the bank as well.”
The man’s family also had some tools: love, determination and hope. Immediately after landing in the state, they organized their own plan. Over the first 24 hours of their arrival, they canvased the riverbanks in Emmett.
His niece shared, “We’ve been out here since about 8:30 a.m. just patrolling the area, checking the river, and just calling out for his name just trying to pray to God, just pray for God to just show us a sign.”
Meagan Jackson, one of his sisters, is one of seven family members searching for Jackson. She received a sign during the early part of the search from her brother to not give up, saying, “I was standing by the river, and I said, ‘Baby boy please give me any sign’ and I walked to the rocks after I finished praying, and feathers fell out of the tree to the ground, but I saw no bird. I’m holding onto that.”
The family also hired a helicopter to help in the search, according to Houma Today. The United Cajun Navy reached out to the family to offer aid during this time of crisis.
The sheriff has allowed the family to search, but has urged others in the community to keep their distance from the river until the search is complete. The rough waters and the cold temperatures are life-threatening and could jeopardize the lives of those well-meaning supporters.
If people want to help, a GoFundMe has been started to support the family’s travel costs, including their lodging while they are searching for the athlete. They are determined to not leave without him.
“He’s coming home, we’re not stopping,” they said. “There’s no, ‘Okay I’ve got to leave.’ We are going to find him, and we are taking him home. That’s it.”
Megan describes her brother as “fun” and “adventurous.”
When sharing about Jackson, she said to WDSU, “He loves to play basketball, loved basketball. He loved his family. He was very family-oriented. He just gets along with everybody.”