South Pacific: Shark attack kills Santa Fean
Tessa Marie Horan, 24, died of a shark attack Wednesday in Tonga, where she was a Peace Corps volunteer.
By Phaedra Haywood | The New Mexican
February 3, 2006
A 24-year-old native Santa Fe woman died Wednesday from a shark attack off the coast of a small South Pacific island, where she was working as a Peace Corps volunteer.
Tessa Marie Horan was working in a tiny Tongonese village called Tu'anuku on the island of Vava'u when she died. She and two boys from the village were swimming to cool off after a soccer game when a shark attacked her, according to her mother, Kristena Prater, who heard the story of her daughter's death from Bob Kirkhorn, a Peace Corps director of special services.
"The boy that was swimming behind her knew immediately that she had been attacked by a shark, and even knowing that, he went swimming out to save her," Prater said.
But the shark bit off most of Horan's right leg, and she bled to death almost instantly, her mother said.
She said the other boy who had been swimming with them ran to tell villagers what had happened, and they lined the beach and the streets chanting as Horan's body was brought to shore.
Horan had been in the Kingdom of Tonga -- a small cluster of islands near Fiji -- only since Jan. 18. She had been teaching English, soccer, art and computer skills to children in Tu'anuku, where about 300 people live, according to Prater.
She was a 1999 graduate of St. Michael's High School and had a bachelor's degree in education from the College of Santa Fe.
"She's always been very involved with other people. She wanted to plant a seed and take care of others," Prater said.
Horan worked and lived at Gemini Farms, an organic farm in Las Trampas, the year before she left for the Peace Corps, her mother said.
On her application to join the Peace Corps, she quoted Ghandi: "You must be the change you wish to see in the world."
Horan led an active life. She worked as a raft guide in the summer and as a member of the ski patrol at Ski Santa Fe in the winter. She also enjoyed rock climbing, kayaking and hiking with her dog, Kalu.
"She was solid. She was good at everything she did," said Abraham Cobb, a friend who worked with Horan on the ski patrol. "Everything she did, she went at it full-on. She was hard-core."
Though she may have been physically tough, friends and family remembered her as a sensitive and emotional person.
"She always brought positive thoughts," said Horan's younger brother, Devin Powell Burke, 19. "She was a very worldly person and a giver. My sister taught me that everyone has a soul and is beautiful and has lives, and we can touch those around us. She made me more of a giver to help those around me."
Burke has a tattoo on his wrist that his sister designed, a heart filled with waves. "Because all life comes from the ocean," Burke said.
"She loved the water and rivers and snow," said John Adams, a longtime friend. "That was her passion. She taught me about karma. I never believed in it until I met her. She was a very spiritual person."
Horan was well-known in Santa Fe, particularly in the rafting and skiing communities.
Friends and family said Horan's death was fitting for the kind of life she led. "I'm glad that she was taken by Mother Nature and was having a good time swimming with her friends," said her brother, Xavier Prater Horan, 23. "Better that than being hit by a drunk driver or being taken by cancer or some other God-forsaken illness. She was out there where she needed to be."
Her godfather, Doug McDowell, has set up a Web site (http://www.tessahoran.com
) where people can view pictures of her and share their memories of her.
The site will also let people make donations to a fund being set up to build a library in Tonga in Tessa Horan's memory. The library was one of the projects she was working on when she died. McDowell said $10,000 has already been donated to the cause.
"I can't believe my child died like 36 hours ago, and she's made ... such an impact on that small village that was already changing because of her," Prater said.
"She did more in 24 years than many of us will do in a lifetime. She died in service to other people. Its just such a remarkable thing. I'm proud to be her mother."
Tessa Horan's family is still waiting for her remains to be shipped back to the United States. "I just want to see her body," said her mother.
They hope to have a memorial service for the Santa Fe community next week.