Hundreds Attend Candlelight Vigil for Cal Poly Student

Cal Poly theater arts student Brett Olson was found dead Sunday morning by some people who were fishing. Image from the Mustang Daily.

The crowd at Acalanes High School in Lafayette may have reached as many as 1,000 mourners, brought together at the school’s football field by a Facebook page originally created to keep hope that Cal Poly student Brett Olson was alive and support his family during the search for him. They were told the candlelight gathering was to be a celebration of the young man’s life and not a “sad occasion”. As the video streamed live on the internet for those who couldn’t attend in person, his father, Michael Olson, told the crowd, “He loved his friends more than anything, and he loved the events that brought them together.”

Brett Olson, a Cal Poly theater arts sophomore and member of Pi Kappa Alpha, was last seen alive at Beer Can Beach, a riverbank on the Sacramento River near Hamilton City and about 10 miles from Chico, where he was participating in an annual Labor Day “river float” that saw as many as 10,000 floaters.

He lost contact with his friends at about 1 p.m. and was reported missing the next day. Police used helicopters and search dogs in their attempt to locate him, but false leads and the dense undergrowth hindered their progress. Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong and Katie Morrow, president of ASI, the organization representing Cal Poly’s student body, issued a joint e-mail to all Cal Poly students encouraging them to help out as best they could, even if it was as little as sending words of encouragement to Olson’s family on Facebook.

A local sheriff told the San Jose Mercury News that the most likely cause of Olson’s death was drowning. One of his friends told KSBY “I wish everyone could have known Brett so that they would know he was not just a floater in the river.”

Cal Poly will be holding a candlelight vigil of its own in Olson’s honor soon. Olson’s official memorial service will be held Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Lafayette Orinda Presbyterian Church.

Information from The Tribune, KSBY, the Contra Costa Times, and the San Jose Mercury News.