Calgary

Irish family offers tearful thanks to Calgary-based canine search team that recovered son's body

The family of an Irish football player who drowned in a B.C. lake last year returned to Canada this week to express thanks to the organization that helped them finally bring their loved one home.

David Gavin, 26, drowned in June 2017 after diving from a bridge near Golden, B.C.

David Gavin's partner, Caira O'Malley, hugs Canadian Canine Search Corps founder Karen Somerville as his parents look on. Gavin died in June 2017 after jumping off a bridge near Golden. His family returned to Canada this week to thank the volunteers who helped recover his body. (CBC)

The family of an Irish football player who drowned in a B.C. lake last year returned to Canada this week to express thanks to the organization that helped them finally bring their loved one home.

David Gavin, 26, was swimming with friends on June 30, 2017 when he jumped off a bridge near the Kinbasket Lake Resort, northwest of Golden, and disappeared.

His family immediately flew to Canada to help in the search but were unsuccessful. They returned twice more to search before a volunteer and his dog recovered Gavin's body — nearly a year after Gavin went missing.

The dog, Koda, is one of only a handful of so-called cadaver dogs in Canada. He and his handler are members of the Calgary-area volunteer group, the Canadian Canine Search Corps.

David Gavin, 26, disappeared in the Kinbasket Lake area, north of Golden, B.C., in June 2017. His body was recovered by volunteers in April 2018. (Breaffy GAA/Facebook)

Gavin's partner, Caira O'Malley, said bringing him home to Ireland provided peace of mind for her and Gavin's family. Now, they want to give back in the hopes of helping other families faced with a similar tragedy.

"If it wasn't for them we would never had got closure," said O'Malley who was flanked by Gavin's father, mother and sister. They flew to Calgary to meet with the search team and donate an undisclosed amount to further their efforts.

Calgary firefighter Karen Somerville founded the Canadian Canine Search Corps. (CBC)

"It would have been very hard even to go back to work or just do normal things because it would be in our head, we need to, we should be looking for David," she said. "I suppose if they can help other people with the money we give them, that's amazing and that's what David would want."

Gavin's father said the family received generous donations through a GoFundMe account that went toward paying for dive teams and other costs involved in the search.

The remainder is being split between a search team in Ireland and the Canadian Canine Search Corps, which was started by Calgary firefighter Karen Somerville.

Koda and his handler Brian Harmes are volunteers with the Canadian Canine Search Corps. (Canadian Canine Search Corps)

Somerville said since forming the organization two years ago, it's conducted five searches and made two finds.

"This one was pretty special," she said. "The Gavin family are so wonderful and supportive of our organization and of each other, and that is so important to see. It really helps inspire us to continue doing what we do." 

Somerville formed the search team, which trains and certifies dogs to detect human remains, because she saw an unmet need among desperate families. 

"It's a feeling of accomplishment and at the same time it's heartbreak," she said.

"When you talk to the family and you are giving them this news, and you know that it's what they want to hear, but at the same time it's pretty devastating."

And she said the money will go toward buying equipment and providing further training.

"We get to pay it forward, we get to take this money and we get to help others," said Somerville.

"I always think it's like David sent them to us for a tiny bit of healing'- Caira O'Malley, David Gavin's partner

The family plans to visit the spot where Gavin drowned. The group will also meet with others who volunteered their time in the search while they are in Canada for the next few weeks.

"I always think it's like David sent them to us for a tiny bit of healing nearly because people were so giving and caring and loving toward us. It was nearly like they were trying to help us along the way," said O'Malley.

The family is also hoping this donation will encourage others to give, too, to the Canadian Canine Search Corps.

"They put an enormous amount of volunteer time into search and rescue to help families like ourselves, to find their loved ones, and I think they need all the funding they can get," said Gavin's father, Michael Gavin.