|Two young Valley ranchers, brothers Weldon and Ben Rusher, died in a drowning accident at Music Meadow Ranch late Sunday night. Their bodies were retrieved on Monday afternoon, while the report of the event filtered through the community with shock and sorrow.
In response to the unsettling tragedy, over 200 Valley mourners gathered in a vigil Labor Day evening on the Bluff to share grief and solace. The spontaneous ceremony was marked by prayer, song, simple remembrances, and encouragement to accept the powerlessness of sudden loss and grief. Community members found comfort in the company of others, as the sun set and the near full moon glimmered in the mist of dusk. The communion of sorrow knit friends and strangers together in testimony to the Rushers, and to their own desire to be present to one another.
Custer County Sheriff Shannon Byerly opened his public statement Monday afternoon with this same community sense of loss. He writes “It is with a very heavy heart the Custer County Sheriff’s Office reports a tragic incident which originated in the late hours of September 3.”
The report details the event as originating about 11:30 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 3, when “the Custer County Communications Center received a frantic 911 call from a female party reporting two male parties had been swimming in a family pond and could no longer be found. Custer County EMS, Fire Department, and Sheriff’s personnel responded to the Music Meadow’s Ranch at the base of Music Pass in rural Custer County where a large group of adults had gathered to enjoy a bonfire and the evening.” At some point in this time, a few of the people at the party decided to go swimming in the two acre pond often used for that purpose.
The report goes on to say that Weldon Rusher, 20, “swam out beyond the others and at some point, began to struggle. His brother, Benjamin Rusher, 28, came to help the younger man and then too began to call for help. Others at the gathering rushed into the water to help and they, along with Ben, were diving below the surface attempting to find Weldon. At some point Ben did not come back to the surface and it was believed he had swum to shore. Once the others were out of the water they realized neither Rusher had made it to safety and called 911.”
When emergency personnel arrived on the scene, they immediately began search operations on the pond. Fire personnel floated the surface in ice rescue gear, and the Sheriff’s Office dive team responded with a boat. Two divers spent over an hour in the 41-degree water searching where the two men were last seen. The search continued through the night “in a tireless effort to locate the men,” Byerly writes. The Custer County divers returned to the water at daylight and spent the entire morning searching the pond, challenged by a heavy amount of foliage and reduced visibility.
The Colorado Springs Fire Department Heavy Rescue Dive team responded to the area later in the morning and deployed a specialty craft outfitted with sonar to aid in the search. “At approximately 12:40 p.m.,” Byerly reports, “the body of Ben Rusher was recovered and then at approximately 2 p.m. his brother Weldon was also pulled from the water.” An autopsy will be conducted on both men at the El Paso County coroner’s office this week; at this time there is no suspicion of foul play. “It is believed the cold water, heavy weed foliage, and dark environment caused fatigue and panic in the younger Rusher man,” Byerly continues; “then in a selfless attempt to rescue his brother, Ben Rusher exhausted himself attempting to pull Weldon from the depths of the pond.”
Byerly personally and publically thanks “each emergency responder who worked tirelessly to find these two young men. It is truly an honor to work beside the men and women of our county who give all they have for those in need. We would also like to extend our gratitude to the Colorado Springs Fire Fighters who came to our aid and helped our community find their sons, brothers, nephews, and friends. A special thanks to the Silver Cliff Mountain Inn for sending out breakfast to everyone at the location of the incident but most importantly, we want to extend our deepest sympathy to the Rusher Family. They have lost more than many will ever have and both Ben and Weldon will be missed by our entire community. May God bless the family and friends of two men who were lost too soon.”
Byerly concludes again with the community sense of engagement with the tragedy, “May each of us find peace at this most difficult time while we mourn the loss of two of our counties sons.”
Calls for further information may be directed to Sheriff Byerly or Undersheriff Chris Barr at 719-783-2270.
Services for Weldon and Benjamin Rusher will be held this Saturday, September 9, in the Custer County School East Gym at noon. Graveside services will follow immediately afterwards at the Ula Cemetery, with a luncheon afterwards at the Saddle Club.
– W.A. Ewing