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Bone fragments those of missing hiker

By: Tim Johnston Email
By: Tim Johnston Email

As sophomores in high school, Jonathan Lau and Raymond Lam looked to Yi-Jien Hwa, their youth leader, for guidance.

"It was about that time that we don't know what's going on with ourselves," said Raymond Lam.

"Our youth group was just drawn to him. Everyone just really connected with him and he was just somebody that we could really talk to," added Jonathan Lau.

Nearly four years ago, these young men and the Lexington Chinese Christian Church were forever changed, when Hwa went missing after a planned 100-mile hike in August 2008.

"It's probably one of the lowest points in our youth group," recalled Lau.

Hwa went hiking in the Glacier National Park, in Montana, but he never came home.

"I was just like, 'Wow, did this really just happen?" described Lam.

According to church members, Hwa was supposed to go hiking with his wife, but a family emergency pulled her away. Hwa instead went alone.

"She had to go back to Hong Kong, so he went to Glacier (National) Park to hike it himself, and then this tragedy happened," said Y.T. Chen an elder of the Lexington Chinese Christian Church.

"Finding out he went missing took a toll on everybody. Especially, his wife," said Lau.

Last July, a hiker found fabric matching Hwa's clothing description in an area below the steep cliffs above Avalanche Lake, which was on Hwa's intended route. Rangers who investigated found the bone fragments and evidence that closely matched items on Hwa's equipment list.

The National Missing Person's Program at the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification determined the bone fragments belonged to the 27-year-old.

"All of the emotions I felt when we found out he went missing, all of that just came back," described Lam.

Though it's been a long time coming, this news still brought relief.

"He is with our Lord and Heavenly Father. I think our youth and church all feel kind of relieved," said Chen.

"I'm really glad that we found him," stated Lam.

While Lam and Lau have grown up and are now in college, the memory of their beloved youth leader has never faded.

The church leaders hope to have a memorial service now that Hwa's remains have been identified. There is still no word on how Hwa died.

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