msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 5/5/2011 11:56:35 AM ET 2011-05-05T15:56:35

An Ohio teenager on a school mission trip to Costa Rica died in the Pacific Ocean when she was pulled along by an undertow current, and two other students swept out with her have not been found, officials said Thursday.

The three were spending an afternoon at the beach when Wednesday's accident occurred, according to a statement from Patriot Preparatory Academy in Columbus. They were among eight members of the junior and senior classes who were on a missionary service trip in the central American country and were to return home Thursday, the school said.

Citing parents of students at the school, The Columbus Dispatch named the girl who drowned as Caity Jones and the missing boys as 16-year-olds Kai Lamar and James Smith.

James Shoaf, Smith's father, said he realizes that as the hours pass, there's little hope his son is still alive.

Shoaf said the school principal called him and said "it's bad, real bad." Shoaf and his wife, Sandy, went to a church with others Wednesday night to pray for the teens.

"I'm standing in a church and there's Scripture to explain what happened," Shoaf told The Columbus Dispatch. "That kid lived and slept the word of Christ."

The three teens were swept out by a rip current in the Pacific near the town of Parrita, the Costa Rican Red Cross told The Tico Times newspaper. They were doing missionary work at an orphanage and a drug rehabilitation center, among other places, according to a blog the group is keeping on the trip.

'Touching' visit to orphanage
A visit to the orphanage "was one of the most touching things I had ever seen," a student named Kai blogged. As the post did not include a last name, it was not immediately clear if the author is the missing Kai Lamar.

The student wrote that the group spent its time there playing with the children and helping the staff with tasks.

"Within that short time, I became attached to one child in particular, and I learned much of how that place worked, from age groups and adoption policies and the lack of funds and workers. I even shed a few tears as we left," the post said.

Sandy Shoaf told the Dispatch that the group had finished its service, and that the day at the beach "was supposed to be their free day."

A junior at the school, Leah Louthen, told the newspaper that Jones was "so ambitious" — as straight-A student with plans to go to a Christian university.

Lamar, she said, is known for his sense of humor and his compassion towards friends facing difficult times; Smith was gregarious and active.

'Deep sorrow'
The academy said it had grief counselors at the school for students on Thursday.

"Our hearts go out to all of our Patriot family that has been affected by this tragedy. We are a family and when one hurts we all hurt," the statement said.

Academy executive director David McIlrath did not immediately return a message seeking further comment. A message also was left with the trip organizer, Ohio-based Impulse International Mission Trips.

The company posted a message of condolence on its website Thursday: "We are in deep sorrow at the passing of Caity Jones, our sister in Christ and James Smith & Kai Lamar who are still missing. Please pray for the families, Patriot Preparatory Academy and everyone involved."

Two other students in the group also were swept away but were rescued by lifeguards, The Tico Times reported.

In 2006, three Kansas students and their teacher drowned in Costa Rica while on a Spanish language immersion trip. A group of students were swimming and some were swept away by strong currents. At least two were rescued, but the teacher and one of the students died trying to save the others.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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