As families picnicked nearby, mourners gathered to remember Santa Cruz resident Erik Lippmann. Lippmann was reported missing on April 21, and after a week of intensive search efforts by members of the community, he was found dead at Marina State Beach.
UC Santa Cruz students will remember seeing the fliers posted around campus and the Facebook group devoted to finding Lippmann popping up in their news feeds as their friends joined. Word of the missing 30-year-old autistic man and the search to find him spread quickly over the eight days since his disappearance, largely due to social networking. The Facebook group grew to almost 6,000 members, some participating in search efforts and others just showing support, most of whom had never met Lippmann.
“People who didn’t know Erik at all were sending their love and prayers and stomping the ground,” Lippmann’s mother Alpha Rateike said at a candlelight vigil held in his memory on May 1 at Seabright Beach. “It was a real community effort, and I’m really grateful.”
About 100 people gathered on the beach to remember Lippmann and share their favorite memories of him. The group repeatedly broke into laughter as those who had been close to Lippman told stories of their times with him, describing him as youthful, good-natured, and constantly making others laugh. As the mourners paused for a moment of silence for Lippmann, the only sounds heard above the crashing of the ocean were the voices of children playing on the beach, a fitting kind of tribute to the man one friend described as “a big kid.”
Jacqueline Brochu, who attended the vigil, connected with the search for Lippman through her acquaintances at Hope Services, the organization that provided staff and care for Lippmann.
“I didn’t know Erik, but I wish I had,” Brochu said.
Brochu echoed the sentiment of many of the mourners in attendance, and many of those who devoted hours and days to looking for Lippman. A request for stories and memories of Lippman on the Facebook group was answered by many postings from group members expressing sympathy for Lippmann’s family and regret for having never known him.
Heather Pint and Tracey Marquart did not know Lippmann personally, but participated in the search to aid a friend who had been close to him. Like many who had known Lippmann, Pint and Marquart expressed surprise at the quick community response to his disappearance.
“It was amazing how we grew and spread the word,” Marquart said.
In an open letter, Rateike thanked the community for the effort that was put forth into returning her son. She also wrote to assure friends and volunteers that Lippmann had not suffered. According to Santa Cruz Police Department spokesperson Zach Friend, the coroner found no indications of foul play.
“Because Erik was autistic, as with many autistics, he didn’t see danger, so he would not have been afraid,” Rateike wrote.
Rateike asked that those who wanted to honor her son’s memory educate themselves about autism, and not “judge or jump to conclusions about people.” She requested that people continue putting forth the kindness and goodwill that had united the community during the search for Lippmann.
“Erik loved Santa Cruz and the areas around it,” she wrote. “I am sure he is looking down on us realizing that not only the people of the Santa Cruz area loved him but also people all over the world who heard his story held him in their hearts and prayers.”
As the sunlight waned and the wind picked up, the group struggled to light candles in memory of Erik Lippmann. Though the flames were repeatedly snuffed out, those who had come out to remember Lippmann were not discouraged. They faced the problem with the same spirit that had united the community and had allowed them to laugh and celebrate the life of the loved one they had lost.
By the end of the evening hundreds of flames wavered, shielded behind hands and sheltered in plastic cups, in memory of the life of much-loved friend and son, Erik Lippmann.