They found the body on Tuesday, two days after Waheed Noori dropped his keys in the Snoqualmie River, went in after them, and was swept away.
His family, there to celebrate Father’s Day, could only watch.
Fiona Cerf saw Noori struggling in the water, and did all she could to save him from the fast-moving waters that she, a river guide, knew well. She stripped off her jeans and shirt, dove in and got 5 feet from Noori, 36, before he went under for the third time, and disappeared.
Cerf, 24, fought to get back to shore, where she stayed with Noori’s wife and four young children, their friends and other onlookers while the King County sheriff’s Marine Unit searched the waters until dark.
Shaken, Cerf went home to Seattle, knowing that if she couldn’t save Noori’s life, she would try to help his family, which came to the United States last August from Afghanistan.
On Monday, Cerf and Noori family friend Jill Ellis started a GoFundMe campaign for the Noori family that, in three days has raised nearly $104,000.
Noori worked in construction and his wife, Zuhra, was working as a housekeeper.
“They were barely making ends meet,” Cerf said, “and without him, there’s no way they will make it financially.”
Through a translator, Zuhra Noori, 35, of Lynnwood, said she was “so numb.”
“I am completely lost,” she said. “My children are completely lost and emotional. When one stops crying, the other starts.”
In Afghanistan, her husband was a taxi driver who took extra jobs to support his family and “did everything in his power to ensure my children and I had the most comfortable life, in the turmoil we lived in there.”
The family spent Sunday at a popular site along Southeast Fish Hatchery Road and 373rd Avenue Southeast near Fall City, according to Sgt. Ryan Abbott of the Sheriff’s Office. At about 3:30, he dropped his keys into the water, went after them, “and then got caught in the rapids,” Abbott said.
The Marine Unit searched until it turned dark at 9 p.m., and then again the next day. On Tuesday at around 3:30 p.m., they found Noori “not far from where he went missing,” Abbott said.
Abbott stressed the danger of the river, which runs high and strong with a spring melt. The water is also cold, and doesn’t warm up until late in the summer.
“Even experienced swimmers will have problems in these areas,” Abbott said.
Cerf, a post-baccalaureate pre-med student who lives in Seattle, had been at the beach with a friend for about an hour when she heard a splash from upstream and saw Noori in the water, struggling against the fast current.
“He swept right past me,” she said, “and was fighting to turn to the shore.”
Cerf has lead white-river rafting tours in Oregon and Idaho, and saw that Noori was in an “eddy fence,” which she described as “a purgatory where he hasn’t made it to safety yet, and which takes a significant push to get out of.”
When he started bobbing about 20 feet from shore, she stood and removed her jeans and T-shirt and dove in after him.
“I know how to read rivers,” she said. “I understand what I am looking at and I felt confident.”
She saw a man in an inflatable kayak trying to reach Noori, but “he got nowhere.”
“I made it to where I last saw him and he just didn’t pop up again,” she said. She dived under three times, looking for him. Nothing.
“I realized his body was gone, but I didn’t want his family to see me giving up on him, so I stayed out there for a minute,” she said. “Then I realized I was tired and needed to bring myself to shore.”
She “barely” made it back, she said, then pulled herself up with the help of a kayak sitting at the river’s edge, stood onshore and took in the family.
“It was so, so horrible,” Cerf said, adding that they were all wailing and praying.
One of Noori’s friends approached her and asked where his body was, thinking he had made it and was downstream somewhere.
That haunts her still.
“I should have gotten in sooner,” Cerf said.
She remembered a woman who approached then and gave her a long hug.
“She really made me feel better, and I will never see her again.”
Before leaving the river, Cerf left her information with one of the Noori’s friends, offering to help.
The next day, she heard from Jill Ellis, a member of the Snohomish Community Church’s Good Neighbor team, which helps refugees adjust to life in America. (The family came here through World Relief, a global Christian humanitarian organization that helped secure the refugee visas and documentation).
They decided to launch the GoFundMe for the family.
Cerf wrote an email to friends, describing the family’s ordeal, and asking for help. Donations started pouring in immediately
In addition to the money for rent and other needs, Cerf and Ellis are trying to find tutors for the children.
“People are really coming through,” Cerf said. “Thousands of people have donated or are offering help, including the Afghan community,” she said. “It’s so inspiring and beautiful, and it’s amazing what we can do for this family when we come together.”
On Wednesday, services for Noori were held at the Omar Al-Farooq Mosque in Mountlake Terrace.
“I am concerned for the future of my children, and the presence that a father has,” Zuhra Noori said. “Now I will be both for them.”