Services set for student
Services have been announced for a Cape Coral man who drowned in Costa Rica during a study abroad trip organized through his university.
A Celebration of Life Service will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday at Fort Myers Shores Seventh Day Adventist Church for Erik L. Downes, 20. A junior at Oglethorpe University, Downes was swimming off Playa Dominical on the Pacific Coast when he was caught in a riptide Jan. 4.
On Jan. 7, his body was found in the waters off of Playa Pinuelas.
Downes was a pre-med major and an active member of the community. He served as vice president of the Student Government Association and led the Student Senate, university officials reported. A resident assistant, Downes volunteered on the school’s Center for Civic Engagement service projects.
Oglethorpe students and faculty members were in Costa Rica for a short-term ecological study abroad trip. He and others were swimming when they were caught in the riptide. Officials reported that no one else was injured.
In 2008, Downes graduated from Canterbury School in Fort Myers.
He is survived by his mother, Myrna Litner, of Cape Coral; father, Elvis Downes, of Boston, Mass.; aunts, Colleen, Lynn and Rose; uncles; cousins; and grandmother, who resides in Barbados.
Downes was remembered Friday by some of those who knew him.
“Erik was an exceptional student,” former Canterbury teacher Peter Ndiang’ui said. “He was a teacher’s dream to have in the class. He had this drive for learning.”
His first year he was in Ndiang’ui’s ancient world history class, his second year he was in his world geography class and his third year he was in his AP human geography class. In his fourth year, he was a sort of teacher’s aide.
But it went beyond that. When Ndiang’ui’s son passed away in an traffic crash, he felt like he did not want to teach again. Originally from Kenya, his family moved to American so that his son could have a good education.
Downes and his classmates visited Ndiang’ui at his home and asked him not to leave. They pleaded with their teacher to stay, explaining that it meant a lot. Ndiang’ui felt a sense of duty toward those students and kept teaching.
“Because of these kids,” he said.
Ndiang’uia has a photo of his wife at the church service for their son — Downes is holding up Ndiang’uia’s wife, offering support while she mourns.
“Erik was always there,” he said.
“Erik had so much to offer the world,” Ndiang’uia said. “So much goodness.”
The two remained close through the years. When Ndiang’uia heard Downes was missing, followed by the recovery of his body days later, he thought to himself, “God, I’m not ready to lose another son.” It was a shock, he said.
“To me, it was not just another student,” Ndiang’uia said.
Teacher Ian Cross served as Downes’ faculty advisor during his four years at Canterbury. When he heard Downes had gone missing, he hoped for the best.
“I’d hoped against hope that he survived whatever happened to him,” he said.
Cross called Downes a well rounded, kind and generous person.
“A very gentle, kind, loving person of great humility but also of great potential, who had remarkable intellect and tremendous promise and who will be greatly missed by the entire Canterbury community,” he said.
One specific thing Cross remembered about Downes was the comfort that he inspired in other people.
“He was very easy to know and be around,” he said. “A very benign presence.”
Cross added that Downes was very involved with his church and did an enormous amount of community service through the church. According to Canterbury officials, Downes had 500-plus hours of community service and was a peer mentor.
He also was in the Science National Honor Society and Social Science and History National Honor Society, was a member of the Mock Trial team and was a senior representative to the school’s alumni board at Canterbury.
According to Ndiang’uia, Downes’ mother was doing OK as of Friday.
“She said, ‘We are not going to have the devil glorified by our tears. We are going to glorify God and thank God for the times we were with Erik,'” he said.
Sunday’s service will be broadcast live online at: www.shoressda.org.
In addition to the service, the Erik Downes Memorial Scholarship fund has been established at Oglethorpe University.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made to the fund by calling (404) 364-8328 or online at: www.oglethorpe.edu.
The fund is provided by Downes’ family, fellow students, faculty, friends and the community, according to university officials. The scholarship will be given to a deserving student with preference given to candidates from Florida, the Fort Myers area specifically.
The Fort Myers Shores Seventh Day Adventist Church is at 14830 Palm Beach Blvd. in Fort Myers. The church’s telephone number is 693-0341.