HESSTON - The cause of death for a visiting college student found dead in Raystown Lake has yet to be determined, an official from the Huntingdon County Coroner's Office said Monday evening.
The temporary ruling of an undetermined cause of death came about 12 hours after an exhaustive search over the weekend ended with a grim discovery as a state police shore patrol unit found the body of Aaron Riley, 21, of Okemos, Mich., in the lake waters at about 10 a.m. Monday.
Riley, a Michigan State University graduate student, was visiting the Juniata College Field Station with a group of students when he went missing Saturday evening.
An autopsy was conducted Monday afternoon and the coroner is now awaiting toxicology results, Deputy Coroner Fred McKnight said.
Hours after Riley was found, day-glo vests marking the way along winding narrow roads leading to the field station were among the remaining indicators of the more than 500 volunteers who combed through 450 acres of land surrounding the lake.
Four different dive teams also searched the lake multiple times, Huntingdon County Emergency Management Director Adam Miller said.
Aug. 23, 2004: Richard L. Hoffer, 47, New Bloomfield
April 21, 2007: Russell Ross, 69, Alexandria
Sept. 28, 2007: Benjamin Carr, 23, Montpelier, Vt.
Sept. 7, 2008: Mearl Seibel, 34, Lititz
May 30, 2010: Eugene Ciccarella, 16, Altoona
Oct. 11, 2010: Vincent Bettwy, 84, Lakemont, Altoona
Sources: Mirror archives, state police
Riley, who had been swimming with other students Saturday evening, was last seen walking toward a wooded trail, a somber Miller said.
His body was found within 100 yards of the boat dock, Miller said.
Riley's body was found in about 12 feet of water, and about 50 to 60 feet from the shoreline, state police at Huntingdon said. The investigation is ongoing, police said.
Raystown Lake manager Dwight Beall, who also volunteered in the search, said hearing such news is always hard. Beall said he has gone through about 50 drownings in different locations during his career with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Considering how popular the lake is there is a low frequency of drownings, Beall said. The average is about one a year, he said, noting years can pass between drownings and then a "rash" of them will occur.
Whether Riley drowned is yet to be determined, however.
Riley was a "strong swimmer" who was somewhat of a woodsman, Miller said. He suffered from epilepsy, and his mother and father, who were at the field station, believe it is important to raise awareness about the condition, which possibly played a part in their son's death, Miller said.
Epilepsy is a medical condition producing seizures affecting mental and physical functions, according to the Epilepsy Foundation.
The family did not wish to speak with the media, but wanted to convey their "deepest gratitude" to everyone involved in the search and rescue, Miller said.
Thousands of dollars and supplies were donated to support the effort, including resources coming from Juniata College. Volunteers traveled long distances to help, as well.
"It was definitely a strong collaborative effort with "every imaginable resource" used from search dogs to boat sonar, Miller said.
"We were using every single thing we could use," he added.
While the outcome wasn't the one anyone hoped for, the family can have peace and closure, Miller said.