By BRANDON FORMBY / The Dallas Morning News
Hope that Kelly James, Brian Hall and Jerry "Nikko" Cooke would be found alive disappeared a long time ago. It's been more than a year since the two Dallas residents and the Brooklyn man vanished while climbing Mount Hood in Oregon.
"We feel very blessed that we haven't lost hope that we will see them again," Mr. James' wife, Karen James, said Sunday. "You just kind of muddle through your time on Earth until you get to be with them again in heaven."
Ms. James, church leaders and friends of the three climbers spoke often of faith, passion and the importance of living life to the fullest during a candlelight remembrance for the men held Sunday. The service marked the anniversary of their disappearance and the subsequent rescue efforts that garnered national attention. More than 75 people attended the tranquil ceremony at Park Cities Baptist Church in University Park.
Meanwhile on Sunday, Mr. Hall's family gathered more than 2,000 miles away at their own candlelit observance – at the foot of the 11,239-foot mountain where Mr. Hall was last seen.
"Today I stand where Brian, Kelly and Nikko's journey began," Mr. Hall's sister Angela wrote in a letter read by a family friend at the ceremony here.
Mr. James and Mr. Hall, both of Dallas, and Mr. Cooke, of Brooklyn, went to the summit of the mountain in early December 2006. Bad weather closed in and 48-year-old Mr. James became injured. Mr. Hall, 38, and Mr. Cooke, 36, apparently left Mr. James in a snow cave to seek help. Mr. James later made a short cellphone call to his family, which fueled hope that he would be rescued. But he died of hypothermia while waiting for rescue teams slowed by severe storms. His body was airlifted off the mountain.
Mr. Hall and Mr. Cooke were never seen again. Subsequent searches for their bodies, including one exploration as recent as September, turned up nothing.
Dr. Jack Martin, a minister at Park Cities Baptist, read a letter from Mr. Cooke's wife, Michaela, during Sunday's service. In it, she described the three men as inspirations who brought "joy, passion and love into the lives they touched."
"Please continue to keep Jerry and Brian in your prayers and hope that someday they will be found," her letter said.
Messages from relatives, friends and church leaders focused less on grief and more on the strength gained from spiritual faith. Mr. James' daughter Katie said she had the words from Philippians 4:13 – "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" – tattooed on her arm after her father died.
"When I lost my dad, this verse came back to me, not for physical strength but for emotional strength," she said.
Many also praised the brave, adventurous and risk-taking natures of the men.
"They knew life is like the weather – it is unpredictable. But still, they climbed," said Gary Brandenburg, senior pastor of Fellowship Bible Church of Dallas, where the James family worships.
"They remind me that life is a gift. Each day is a package that should be opened immediately."
Mary Leslie Wells, a friend of Mr. Hall and his family, described the man known for rescuing stray animals and helping the homeless as a beloved personal trainer and soccer coach.
"He was a real gift from God," she said. "He was a true natural athlete."
Mrs. James said the loss of her husband was made more difficult because it happened so close to Christmas. But she also said she was thankful for the time she had with the man who proposed to her on Mount Rainier. During the service, she described Mr. James as a talented landscape architect and romantic, tender husband. She said he would often write her letters before going on climbs. In one, he said he would dream of coming home to her.
Mrs. James said, "Now I'm the one dreaming of coming home."
Photos by SONYA N. HEBERT/DMN
Siblings Katie and Ford James embrace at a remembrance ceremony at Park Cities Baptist Church for their father, Kelly James, and Jerry 'Nikko' Cooke and Brian Hall.
Karen James is pictured to the right.