RCMP boats are searching for a 24-year-old Ottawa man who has been missing since going for a swim Saturday with friends in St. Catharines, Ont.
The family of Steve Nkusi, a former competitive track athlete, fear the worst but are hoping police, who have been scanning the waters at Sunset Beach for the past three days, will soon provide answers.
“It’s like a nightmare every morning,” Nkusi’s sister, Sandrine Mugeni, said in a phone interview Tuesday morning.
By Monday, Mugeni and other family members had arrived from Ottawa and other parts of Ontario and Quebec to the search area.
Niagara Regional Police Service (NRPS) have not released the name of the missing swimmer and didn’t confirm Nkusi’s identity to CBC Hamilton, only saying the search is ongoing.
‘This is a big loss’
Nkusi’s family, however, confirmed his identity and wanted to share more about his life, as they sat along the shore of the beach Monday, watching RCMP boats in the distance. Nine of his relatives consoled each other, some in tears when discussing Nkusi.
“This is a big loss … he was just a joyful person,” Mugeni said Monday afternoon, choking on her words. She said their parents, who live in Rwanda, are now on their way to Canada.
Nkusi, who represented Canada in high jump at the 2015 Junior Pan American Games, was born in Kigali, Rwanda, and grew up in the Orléans area of Ottawa, his family said. He attended École élémentaire catholique des Voyageurs and École secondaire catholique Garneau.
He graduated from the University of Ottawa with a finance degree this year after working with the federal government while in school, his family said.
As well as being an athlete, Nkusi recently started modelling, his sister said. Angie’s Models & Talent International (AMTI), which has offices in Ottawa and Toronto, said it brought him on as a model in March.
“He did a few films — one short and independent. He had so much talent and he was just getting started,” Angie Sakla-Seymour of AMTI said in an email.
“We are very saddened by the news. When I first heard, I called his phone hoping he would answer.”
His resume on his AMTI profile said he finished fifth in high jump at the Pan Am competition.
A police statement on the weekend said a group of people in their early 20s rented a boat at the beach Saturday that was stopped just offshore at roughly 6 p.m. ET.
Nkusi’s family said he was celebrating a friend’s birthday.
“Steve was a very athletic guy, so he decided to go for a swim,” Kevin Nkubito, one of Nkusi’s cousins, said at the beach on Monday after arriving from London, Ont.
Then, his friends saw him start to struggle in the water, Nkubito said.
“They tried to throw a life-jacket, but he couldn’t catch it.”
He said Nkusi went underwater and didn’t resurface.
Search team steps up efforts
Niagara police said emergency crews responded, including uniformed police, the NRPS Marine Unit, St. Catharines Fire, Trenton Search and Rescue, as well as the Canadian Coast Guard.
Search efforts Sunday included sonar, underwater cameras and divers, but police have yet to find anything. Police said Tuesday the NRPS marine unit would begin shoreline and open water searches.
The family said police are doing a good job but they don’t want the search efforts to diminish.
“We just want to find him and pay respects to him, for our closure,” said Erixon Kabera, another cousin.
His family added Nkusi had plans to go to Rwanda to support his parents’ hotel and do charity work, like help build homes.
“He was really involved in society,” Nkubito said.
His other interests included hip-hop and anime, according to family.
They also remember his glowing smile and his ability to befriend anyone.
“To know Steve was to love him,” said Win Kayitare, a cousin.
Police are asking for any witnesses at the beach Saturday to come forward.