UC Santa Cruz student Shireen Agha Ahsan’s body was found Monday night at Strawberry Beach, Nick Baldridge from the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office Coroner’s Unit confirmed. The remote beach in Wilder Ranch State Park is five miles south of where she and fellow student Ahmad Solaiman Nourzaie were swept into the ocean on Jan. 18.
Nourzaie’s body has not been found, but the search continues with water and aircrafts along the North Coast area this week, said Sheriff’s Lt. Todd Liberty.
A mountain biker spotted a body at about 5:45 p.m. Monday. State Parks, Santa Cruz Fire, Cal Fire and Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office were alerted and responded to the scene. The Santa Cruz County Coroner’s Unit retrieved the body around 7:30 p.m., and Ahsan’s family was notified shortly after the body’s identification Tuesday morning, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel.
“Solaiman is never not in our hearts, neither is Shireen, they are always in our hearts. For us there is always that connection,” said Naseer Ahmed, Nourzaie’s childhood friend, during an on-campus memorial Saturday afternoon. “He doesn’t need tears, he needs prayers. Prayers and memories. That’s what he would say, ‘Don’t throw me a death party, I’m not afraid of death. It’s how you go, it’s what comes after.’”
About 100 people gathered for a memorial in the College Nine Namaste Lounge to mourn and pray for both bodies to be found. The ceremony was a time for group prayer and an opportunity for family and friends to reflect on their time with Nourzaie and Ahsan.
“The part that hurts is I didn’t get enough time with him,” said Nourzaie’s older brother, Omar. “What mattered to him was the simplicity of who he was, and his faith and desire to be closer to his creator. He never made you feel like you were in the wrong. He just did what he did and was an example you followed.”
A memorial for Ahsan was scheduled for Tuesday night, but was postponed after police confirmed the body found at Strawberry Beach was hers.
Ahsan, 19, a Kresge College second-year and Nourzaie, 25, a College Nine fourth-year, were part of a group of five UCSC students visiting the Bonny Doon beach. Three students used a rope to scale down a cliff and reach a rock outcrop when they were swept into the ocean by 10- to 15-foot surf, said Santa Cruz Fire Chief Jason Hajduk. While one made it to shore uninjured, Ahsan and Nourzaie disappeared in the surf.
“We were all together, and we started getting closer to more dangerous parts. At this point the water wasn’t even close to the rock but we were all having a good time,” the uninjured student said during Nourzaie’s memorial. “The water just pulled us into the ocean. From that point on I didn’t see the other two. I don’t know how to swim … My mind gave up on me but my heart and my body didn’t give up.”
The rescue team searched a 46-mile stretch for 22 hours. Despite two boats and two helicopters searching for the students, they were not found.
“Since they are good swimmers, I [thought] they [would be fine]. I couldn’t go back. I didn’t know how to swim,” the same student said. “I started to get mad at [the Coast Guard] because that’s what [they] get paid for. From then on, it was the worst day of my life. Seeing two friends go away.”
Both students were active members of the Muslim community on campus. An education awareness campaign on Islamophobia and increasing UCSC Muslim representation has since been dedicated to Shireen and Nourzaie, said Omar Aziz, Muslim Student Association representative and Kresge coordinator of residential education. Shireen was scheduled to present with Aziz for Islam 101 class, he said.
“Words cannot express the sorrow we feel as a campus community,” Chancellor George Blumenthal wrote in an email to the UCSC community. “We want to extend our deepest personal condolences to her family, friends and classmates.”
On-campus counselors are available for students to speak to through Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at (831) 459-2628.