ASSATEAGUE – One week after a Lanham, Md. man drowned after getting caught in a rip current near 31st Street, his body washed ashore on Assateague Island.
The Maryland State Medical Examiner’s Office in Baltimore on Wednesday confirmed the body found in the surf at Assateague Island last Sunday evening was that of Lij-Paul Headley, 19, who drowned in Ocean City near 31st Street on Sunday, June 17. The body was discovered by national park law enforcement officials around 5:45 p.m. on Sunday in the vicinity of kilometer 21.5, just south of the area known as the “Bullpen” in the Over Sand Vehicle zone.
The rangers responded and retrieved the body, which was transferred to the custody of the Medical Examiner’s Office for identification. Local officials said earlier this week they were 99 percent sure the body recovered on Assateague was that of Headley’s because the victim fit the race, sex and age profile.
On Wednesday morning, their assumptions were officially confirmed by the Medical Examiner’s Office. The body has been released to Headley’s family and the investigation into the incident has been closed.
Headley was in the ocean at 31st Street on the afternoon of June 17 with his brother and a cousin, all three non-swimmers, when the trio was suddenly caught in a rip current. The Ocean City Beach Patrol (OCBP) was able to rescue the other brother and the cousin, but Headley was swept under and never found.
A Salisbury man, who was swimming nearby in a wetsuit and fins, told OCBP officials he had gone to the three men who appeared to be in trouble and told them to swim away from the rip current, but they told him they could not swim. OCBP rescue technicians were able to save two of the troubled swimmers.
The OCBP immediately sprang into action with as many as 15 lifeguards in the water conducting a search for Headley. At first, they took turns diving under the water and searching the bottom with their hands and arms. They then locked arms and walked across the bottom in the area where Headley was last seen in an effort to corral the missing swimmer.
A Coast Guard boat was quickly on the scene and joined the search by patrolling the surface and a Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) boat responded and did the same. Also, a Maryland State Police helicopter equipped with thermal imaging gear that can detect warm patches in the otherwise cold water joined the search.
The MSP helicopter called off its search after about 90 minutes because of fuel issues, but the Coast Guard helicopter continued to search overnight that Sunday and into the next morning before officially calling off the search. The Beach Patrol continued to search for Headley’s body throughout the early part of last week and responded to several witness reports of spotting what appeared to be a body in the water, but they were unfounded. The tragic incident was brought to some measure of closure last Sunday with the discovery of Headley’s body in the surf at Assateague.
OCBP Captain Butch Arbin said last week the tragic incident served as a reminder of the importance of following a few common sense rules when swimming in the ocean. First and foremost is the importance of swimming when the Beach Patrol is on duty. The second most important factor is swimming ability. Arbin said people who are not strong swimmers, or can’t swim at all, should check with the guards on the beach to see what the conditions are, and, in most cases, should swim right in front of the guards and stay close to shore.