DULUTH, MN -- A 29-year-old youth counselor and a 17-year-old girl, both members of a Twin Cities church group, died after they were swept away by the swift-flowing Temperance River in northeastern Minnesota and carried over waterfalls.
Cook County Sheriff Mark R. Falk said counselor Julie Steiskal and Andrea Evans were among a group of hikers that went into the river to cool off Wednesday evening.
He said most of the water in that part of Temperance River State Park is knee-deep, but the women went in chest-deep to wash their hair.
"Julie stepped into a little deeper water close to where the current is pretty strong," Falk said. "Andrea joined her and slipped. Julie grabbed Andrea and was trying to hang onto her while at the same time hang on to the rock behind her. The current was just too strong and swept them both down the river and into the gorge."
The women were swept into a narrow gorge more than a quarter-mile long with several potholes and waterfalls.
Other hikers rushed downstream and found a sheriff's deputy in a parking lot. He radioed for help, then met the others at the pool below the gorge's final waterfall.
"One at a time the girls came over that last waterfall and were facedown in the pool" about a half hour after they were swept away, Falk said.
Both victims were dead at the scene. Evans drowned, while autopsy results on Steiskal were not immediately available.
The family and friends of the teenager and woman say they're shocked and mourning two people with a strong Christian faith.
"We were grateful that we had almost 30 years that we were blessed with her life," said Deb Steiskal, the mother of Julie Steiskal. "We'll miss her but we know that we'll see her again."
"She had a bright smile that would light up the hallway whenever you would see her," said Bill Wacker of Trinity School at River Ridge in Eagan.
Wacker said Andrea planned to attend Hillsdale College in Michigan and eventually become a lawyer or teacher.
"I think the saddest part for me is not seeing what she would have done with her tremendous energy and drive," he said.
Steiskal and Evans were members of a group affiliated with the Church of the Open Door of Maple Grove, a Minneapolis suburb. They were among a group of eight -- three adults and five children and teenagers -- that spent Wednesday hiking and rock climbing at Carlton Peak.
On their way back to a Finland campground, they stopped at Temperance River State Park to clean up in the river. The group hiked up the park's trail to just upstream of the river's gorge.
"The river currents are unpredictable and people can in trouble pretty easily," Temperance River State Park Manager Phillip Leversedge said. "There are some pretty strong currents in the river, especially where the river enters the gorge."
Falk said rivers are running high because of the rainy spring and early summer. "You need to be very, very careful. Sometimes the current is a lot stronger than it appears," he said.
Tim Smalley, boat and water safety specialist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, recommends that people stay out of rivers and other areas where there are currents, especially now while many streams and rivers are flowing fast because of recent rains.
The river has been the site of at least four other fatal accidents over the past dozen years.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)