Jaramillo family pastor shares stories of panic, heroism in moments after deadly Adventureland accident


DES MOINES, Iowa — The Jaramillo family is leaning on each other and their faith as they continue to pray and wait at a Des Moines hospital following a tragic accident at Adventureland theme park on Saturday, according to their pastor. “Two days ago they lost their 11-year-old son. Now they have a 15-year-old – who turns 16 tomorrow – who is in critical condition,” pastor Christian Shields told WHO 13’s Jodi Long on Tuesday. “Where do you even spend your emotional energy on something like that?”

The Jaramillo family was riding on the ‘Raging River’ at Adventureland on Saturday when their tube flipped over, trapping the family underwater. Eleven-year-old Michael Jaramillo was killed. His parents – David and Sabrina Jaramillo – as well as two brothers and a cousin were also on the raft and suffered serious injuries. “What we know is that it happened within the first 15-25 seconds of the ride,” Shields says, “the boat went down a dip and completely capsized entirely upside down.”

Shields, pastor of Christian Life Church of Cedar Rapids, says David Jaramillo injured his shoulder trying to lift the heavy raft in the water with his children buckled in and trapped beneath the water. He appeared on Good Morning America on Tuesday with his arm in a sling. He says the family’s youngest son, Gus, was saved by his cousin – Nyla – who reacted instantly when the raft flipped. “She is a hero. She saved Gus’ life. She had the presence of mind when they were going down to unbuckle him and get him out of the raft before they were trapped underwater,” Shields says.

While David, Sabrina, Nyla and Gus were able to free themselves, the family’s two oldest sons – David and Michael – remained trapped underwater. Michael, 11, died from his injuries on Sunday. The younger David remains in a medically induced coma at a Des Moines hospital. He turns 16 on Wednesday. Shields says he does have brain activity and woke up yesterday and asked where he was briefly.

Shields says everyone aboard the raft suffered head injuries when they flipped over in the shallow water that runs through a concrete course. Shields says David blames himself for not saving his children, but says he did everything he could. “He’s so upset with himself for not being able to lift that raft,” Shields says, “[I’m] telling him: ‘It’s not your fault. Don’t blame yourself. This is a tragedy. But it’s not your fault David, it’s not your fault, Sabrina.'”

Shields says that Michael Jaramillo and he have been working together closely this summer. Their church has been working to construct a new building. One of their fundraisers for the new church includes cleaning up after Cedar Rapids Kernels baseball games. Shields says Michael was a dutiful volunteer, no matter the job. “Michael, 11 years old, said: ‘Pastor, I want to be there every night to help you clean. So every night Michael would come and he’d spend two hours at Kernel Stadium picking up trash and beer and nasty stuff and he had a smile on his face. He loved being there to serve.”

Shields helped establish a GoFundMe to raise money for the family to cover costs until short-term disability payments begin to come in. The fundraiser has already surpassed its $10,000 goal, but donations are still being accepted.

In the meantime, Shields says the family is focused on staying strong and moving forward. “They are grieving for their son, they are holding out hope for their other son. We have media and lawyers and everyone trying to come down on them. I have no idea how they begin to handle that. It’s just one foot in front of the other,” Shields says.

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