LOS GATOS, Calif. (KTVU) - A South Bay community is mourning the loss of a mother and child after the pair drowned in a freak accident on a frozen pond while on vacation.
Gary Claassen says Friday's ill-fated trek across a frozen Kansas pond started out as family fun during a visit with relatives. Claassen says the trio decided to go shoe skating, shuffling and sliding across the ice in shoes instead of skates. He says he checked with locals about the strength of the ice.
"They kind of analyzed the weather, how cold it had been. How many degrees below zero for how many days," he said, his voice cracking with stress and emotion. "And we heard time and time again from people who were locals that it would be absolutely safe."
It wasn't safe. Police say the inch-thick ice broke 15-feet from shore, and eight-year-old Trent went in.. Both mother and father tried to safe him, but were unable.. It took 50 minutes for first responders to arrive and pull Gary Claassen from the icy water. But Polly and Trent had in been in and under the frigid water too long, and both died.
Neighbors in their hilly, arboreal, neighborhood in the Santa Cruz Mountains are devastated by the two deaths.
"The community up here is definitely going to miss Polly and Trent a lot. Trent was well liked on this street by all the kids," said neighbor Christina Temple, who rents a downstairs apartment from the Claasens. "Polly was so generous. She gave to the point probably where she shouldn't keep giving, but she kept doing it."
Polly Claassen worked at Christ Episcopal Church in Los Altos as a Sunday school teacher. Staffers there said they're trying to shield children from the loss of the beloved instructor.
Gary Claassen was transitioning between jobs, leaving much of the domestic duties to his wife. He said his son Trent was "better than what I could have ever hoped for," in a son.
The father is still in Kansas, recovering from his injuries after his rescue and preparing a a funeral for both his son and wife. He says his faith will help him cope with his loss.
"My wife and my son are in heaven right now with Jesus-God. [It] gives me a better comfort, more than I could have ever imagined.
A YouCaring fund has been set up for Gary: https://www.youcaring.com/garyclaassen-732536