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Kayaker drowned in Nooksack River, was about to get married

A 52-year-old kayaker drowned in the Nooksack River near Glacier on Saturday, March 28, a little more than a month before he was supposed to get married.

Holdeen Cushing-Murray of Bellingham became trapped underwater in a log jam while he was kayaking the Nooksack River’s north fork.

Glacier residents nearby on Bourne Street called 911 around 6 p.m. Saturday. Two fellow kayakers and nearby residents tried to pull out Cushing-Murray, while others waited to flag down first responders, said Whatcom County Undersheriff Jeff Parks. The river was rising, causing the log jam to shift, he said. The strong water current would not allow anything other than a boat to rescue him.

Several agencies arrived roughly 20 minutes after receiving the initial call, but Cushing-Murray had already been submerged for an hour by that time, Parks said. Rescuers had no chance of saving him, and returned the next day to retrieve his body.

People close to Cushing-Murray described him as an adventurer — a vagabond who survived obstacles all around the world, an outdoorsman always seeking a thrill, and a fiancé excited for his future.

He had spent time working as a chef in New Zealand, Australia, Italy, Ireland, Morocco and other places. He lived in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., before moving to Bellingham in November 2014, according to his friend, Marc Gallin.

Gallin said Cushing-Murray loved the outdoors, and was an “extreme” skier and rock climber who, as he bounced around the globe, was sometimes unemployed and lived in a tent.

“He was very adventurous. He lived life on the edge and to the fullest,” Gallin said. “He was loud, he was rough, he was obnoxious, but he was a good friend.”

The last time Gallin spoke to him was last week. They discussed the upcoming wedding. Gallin said Cushing-Murray was enjoying life, and was looking forward to his future with his fiancée, Maureen Kennedy.

“He was just so in love with her,” Gallin said.

Cushing-Murray and Kennedy became engaged in December. They met in California and she followed him to Bellingham.

Kennedy said her fiancé was unique and loved living on the edge, “anything that pushed the limits,” she said. He was not as experienced at kayaking, so two of his friends took him out to teach him on Saturday.

“They say he was hooting and hollering the whole way down the river,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy and Cushing-Murray scheduled their wedding for May 1. Since his death, Kennedy said people around the globe have expressed ways that Cushing-Murray touched them in some way.

Now, friends and family who were planning to travel to Bellingham for his wedding instead will be attending his memorial, Gallin said. It’s scheduled to take place May 2, one day after he was supposed to marry. No location has been set.

“He was an amazing person,” Kennedy said. “I was looking forward to spending the rest of my life with him.”

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