By Erica Thomas, managing editor
CLAY — A local family is mourning the loss of an Army veteran this Independence Day, after they were told their son was found at the bottom of Cosby Lake on Wednesday, July 3.
It all started Tuesday night when the mother of 36-year-old Russell Patterson said he went fishing in a new kayak. When he didn’t come home for dinner, the mother went to the lake to check on him. After a frantic search, Patterson’s mother and stepfather called authorities to help find him.
Center Point Fire and Rescue and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office responded first. For hours Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning, crews searched for Patterson using rescue boats, the county’s Star 1 helicopter and K9 search teams. All the while, Patterson’s family and friends waited and watched anxiously, praying he would be found safe.
Items belonging to Patterson were located, including an orange kayak, a pair of shoes and a tackle box. His truck was still parked in the middle of the boat ramp. The search was briefly suspended until 6 a.m. Wednesday morning.
As the sun came up, crews from across the state filed into Cosby Lake to join in the search. More than 10 agencies including Trussville’s dive team, the Jefferson County EMA and rescue teams from Leeds, Pell City, Tallapoosa County and Calera were in the water searching for Patterson.
Experts identified a specific area in the northeast sector of the lake where they believed Patterson could be. They performed grid searches and used high-tech equipment to examine the bottom of the lake.
As crews worked feverishly for hours, community support poured in for first responders and family and friends of Patterson, who stayed on the scene. Food, water and supplies were donated by Piggly Wiggly in Clay and other nearby donors. All the while, the family asked for prayers. At times, they gathered in prayer and spoke fondly of their loved one.
After nearly 18 hours, what was believed to be a body was located in the northeast section of the lake where crews had been searching. Using a camera that mapped out the lake floor, the Tallapoosa County/Alex City Rescue Squad made the determination at 3:15 p.m.
Center Point Fire and Rescue then turned the scene over to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and the Jefferson County Coroner. Throughout the next hour, the family of Patterson was notified and crews began to pack up and leave.
The kayak, which had been found the night before, was removed from the bank of Cosby Lake after the coroner came and removed the body from the lake. Within two hours of the family finding out the likely fate of their loved one, the scene was cleared and Cosby Lake Park was once again still and quiet.
Patterson’s family will plan a private memorial service over the coming days. His mother said she is thankful for the many crews that helped find her son and for the wide-spread community response. Friends, who called the Army veteran “Rambo,” said their friend will be remembered as a strong, determined man, who never gave up.