An 18-year-old kayaker whose body was recovered from Peconic Bay Saturday night is being remembered for his gentle and adventurous spirit.
“I never felt like I had to worry about him,” Raistlin Ruther’s mom, Laura Gandara, recalled in an interview Monday morning. “Ever since he was a little boy, he was kind, considerate, compassionate. He kind of considered himself a loner, but he was so, so loved.”
Raistlin had shoved off in his blue kayak at about 8 a.m. from West Street in South Jamesport and was reported overdue to return to the Riverhead Town police by 4 p.m.
According to Ms. Gandara, her son was an experienced kayaker who was prepared with a wet suit, life jacket and other gear. He phoned his grandmother, with whom he lived in Riverhead, to let her know he had crossed the bay. “It was such a nice day — he sounded really good, but something happened after that,” Ms. Gandara said, her voice cracking.
A search was commenced a short time later that ultimately drew emergency crews from multiple East End fire and police departments, as well as helicopters from the Suffolk County Police Department and the U.S. Coast Guard station on Cape Cod.
Shortly before 9 p.m. the Coast Guard helicopter located the missing man’s kayak in eastern Peconic Bay. A short time later a Southold Town police search boat located the body of the man, who was wearing a life jacket according to a Coast Guard spokesperson.
According to Southold police, Raistlin’s body was found in Southampton Town waters, just west of Robins Island. A dry bag with the man’s cell phone inside was located on the shore at Meschutt Beach in Hampton Bays.
“We’re all just shocked and sickened,” said Amy Wells, a cousin of Ms. Gandara’s. “He was so sweet, always an outdoorsman,” she said, adding that he’d frequently post Tik Tok videos documenting his outdoor adventures and boxing hobby.
Ms. Wells said Raistlin had just graduated from Riverhead High School in June and had been working at the local Agway while thinking of starting a career in carpentry.
Ms. Gandara, who lives in Murrieta, Calif., said Raistlin briefly lived with her, her husband and their two young sons but returned to Long Island to live with his grandparents because he missed living on the water.
Speaking from a rest stop in Tennessee, Ms. Gandara, who was on her way to New York Monday, said her son’s interest in anything to do with sailing and marine life stemmed from a love of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” film series he enjoyed as a child.
“He’d say ‘I want to sail, I want to sail,’ so I took him for lessons at the Mattituck Yacht Club. He completely loved it,” Ms. Gandara said. A few years later, he navigated local waters in his own Sunfish, she said.
In addition to a love of water sports, Raistlin loved hiking, fishing, boxing and playing the piano. In high school, he completed the BOCES carpentry program and was a member of ROTC, his mother said, which motivated him to stay fit and avoid drinking or drugs. “He used to drink coffee then one day thought ‘I think I’m addicted,’ and stopped,” Ms. Gandara said, letting out a little chuckle.
His aunt, Carissa Sexton, started a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for the family’s travel expenses, funeral services and ultimately, a scholarship in Raistlin’s memory. “To lose someone like him is so difficult to accept. When Raistlin left us, a little piece of us all left with him,” Ms. Sexton wrote on the page, which had raised over $22,000 by Monday afternoon.
Ms. Gandara said memorial services are planned for Thursday, Jan. 7, in Wading River, though additional details were not immediately available. The results of an autopsy are still pending, though she believes Raistlin died of hypothermia.
“He was 18 and I’m 41 and I depended on him more than he depended on me,” she said quietly. “He was so independent. He really is my rock.”