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City High School in Iowa City will honor a 17-year employee and “wonderful human being” who drowned Friday while trying to save a child from the Iowa River in southern Johnson County.
Wegayewu Faris, 42, had been a custodian at City High since 2005, according to Principal John Bacon. The school will honor him with a plaque highlighting his story.
He was “just an absolutely wonderful human being — kind, caring, always took the time to stop and visit with staff and students. (He was) very much a caring presence in the building, an extremely hard worker. City High School is a historic, beautiful campus, and he took a lot of pride in helping take very good care of the building,” Bacon said.
Faris was fishing Friday in the Iowa River at River Junction Access near Lone Tree when an 8-year-old boy, who was not related to Faris but was also fishing with family, went into the river and began struggling. Faris entered the river to try to save the child.
With the help of Faris and a nearby kayaker, the boy got safely out of the water, but Faris became submerged. The kayaker and others began looking for him as law enforcement was called. Johnson County Sheriff’s deputies located Faris’ body about an hour after he went into the water.
The Sheriff’s Office did not release the name of the boy nor the kayaker who pulled him from the water.
Bystanders performed CPR on the child and he was taken to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. According to Johnson County Sheriff Brad Kunkel, the boy was released from the hospital Saturday and is doing well.
Bacon started working with Faris about 12 years ago when Bacon became principal of City High in 2010. He said he plans to put a plaque, which will feature a picture of Faris and tell the story of his work at the school and how he died, in the area of the school that was Faris’ custodial and maintenance responsibility.
Bacon said he also has been doing his best to circulate a link to a GoFundMe page that was started by Faris’ sister-in-law, Bethel Tewabe, in hopes that City High community members can help support Faris’ family.
“I think there's just there's been a … high degree of support that's been out there. I think many people are just moved and touched by the story of the bravery and courage that he showed, just a selfless act of bravery,” Bacon said. “There's been an outpouring of love and support on social media. And I know the City High community will utilize the GoFundMe to help his family as well.”
According to the GoFundMe, Faris had gone fishing Friday with his three children, ages 12, 8 and 6. He also had a wife, Teyobesta Tewabe. The family is living in Coralville, but Faris originally was from Ethiopia, and his family is hoping to use the money raised to transport his body back to Ethiopia to be laid to rest there.
“Wegayewu took care of everyone around him in any way that he could. He had a very big heart, hardworking hands, a very determined mindset, and a smile that could brighten a dark room. He loved spending time with his family and friends, fishing, going on walks, and being outside in nature,” the GoFundMe states.
The GoFundMe had raised over $36,000 as of Monday afternoon.
Iowa City Community School District Superintendent Matt Degner released a statement praising Faris’ kindness and dedication.
“Our deepest sympathies go out to Mr. Faris’s family and friends … Mr. Faris died a hero and will forever be remembered for his brave and selfless actions. We will miss him deeply,” Degner said.
School counselors will be available at City High School in the coming days to help students and staff work through difficult emotions following the death, according to Degner.
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