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Palo Alto High graduate, 21, dies in 'freak accident' while on hike in San Diego

Max Lenail had a fondness for nature, his father says

Max Lenail, 21, of Palo Alto, died on Jan. 29 during a hike at Mission Trails Regional Park in San Diego. Courtesy Cynthia Hess.

Max Lenail, a 21-year-old man from Palo Alto, died over the weekend while hiking in San Diego, according to his family.

Lenail died from drowning, his father Ben Lenail confirmed to the Weekly on Monday morning.

Max Lenail was reported missing on Friday at Mission Trails Regional Park where he had gone out for a run, according to San Diego police. A day later, hikers at the park found a body in a river that was believed to be Max Lenail. Emergency rescue crews were called to recover the body, the police department said on social media.

"He was the victim of a freak accident while hiking in the wilderness," Ben Lenail wrote in a Facebook post. "As immensely cruel as his death is, we are grateful to God for loaning him to us for 21 years."

According to his father, Max Lenail went for a run at Mission Trails park, where he had already had "two great runs in the preceding weeks." On the way back home, it started to hail and a flash flood caused the river to swell onto the trail.

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In an attempt to cross the river, Max Lenail drowned, according to the coroner, Ben Lenail said.

Born March 26, 1999 in Chêne-Bougeries, Switzerland, Max Lenail came to Palo Alto when he was 3 months old. He graduated from International School of the Peninsula (now known as Silicon Valley International School) in 2013 and Palo Alto High School, where he was a member of the Class of 2017.

At Paly, he was involved with the school's Fiery Arts program, for which his parents still volunteer. Max Lenail also was involved with the school's renowned debate team.

"In Palo Alto, he was extremely popular and loved there," his father said.

Max Lenail went on to study biology at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, where he had been enrolled since 2017.

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In January, Max Lenail moved to San Diego with his friends from Brown University, where he planned to finish his last quarter remotely and graduate as a pre-med student in May.

Max Lenail chose the location for its proximity to nature, his father said.

"He was looking for a place where he could study and finish his classes that he needed to graduate, but also a place that had a ton of outdoor possibilities," Ben Lenail said of his son. "He was a fanatical rock climber, runner and an outdoorsman."

Around Palo Alto, Max Lenail frequented Arastradero Preserve and Huddart Park, especially when he was back home during the summer last year, according to his father.

Ben Lenail said he'll remember his son for many qualities outside of his fondness for nature: his penchant for French cuisine; the smells that emitted from the kitchen of their Palo Alto home as he cooked three meals a day; and his musical hum.

"I can't sing 'The Star-Spangled Banner' if my life depended on it, but Max had this kind of incredible memory for music, so I'll remember him singing all day: Bach, Schubert and Ed Sheeran," he said.

A socially-distanced, candlelight vigil will be held on Thursday, Feb. 4, at 7 p.m. at Palo Alto's Eleanor Pardee Park near the intersection of Center Drive and Tevis Place. Friends and family request that attendees wear masks.

A virtual memorial will be held on Saturday, Feb. 6. The time and link to the event is pending.

To honor Max Lenail, his family recommends making a donation to the Van Haren Lab at Stanford Medicine. Max Lenail had interned at the lab and co-authored a scientific paper with Dr. Keith Van Haren, the lab's principal investigator, who was his mentor, according to Ben Lenail. The donation page can be found here.

Max Lenail is survived by his mother, Laurie Yoler; father, Ben Lenail; brother, Alex Lenail; honorary sister, Whitney Lohmeyer of New York; and grandparents, Stan and Judy Cooper of Mill Valley.

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Palo Alto High graduate, 21, dies in 'freak accident' while on hike in San Diego

Max Lenail had a fondness for nature, his father says

by Palo Alto Weekly staff / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Mon, Feb 1, 2021, 9:28 am
Updated: Mon, Feb 1, 2021, 2:00 pm

Max Lenail, a 21-year-old man from Palo Alto, died over the weekend while hiking in San Diego, according to his family.

Lenail died from drowning, his father Ben Lenail confirmed to the Weekly on Monday morning.

Max Lenail was reported missing on Friday at Mission Trails Regional Park where he had gone out for a run, according to San Diego police. A day later, hikers at the park found a body in a river that was believed to be Max Lenail. Emergency rescue crews were called to recover the body, the police department said on social media.

"He was the victim of a freak accident while hiking in the wilderness," Ben Lenail wrote in a Facebook post. "As immensely cruel as his death is, we are grateful to God for loaning him to us for 21 years."

According to his father, Max Lenail went for a run at Mission Trails park, where he had already had "two great runs in the preceding weeks." On the way back home, it started to hail and a flash flood caused the river to swell onto the trail.

In an attempt to cross the river, Max Lenail drowned, according to the coroner, Ben Lenail said.

Born March 26, 1999 in Chêne-Bougeries, Switzerland, Max Lenail came to Palo Alto when he was 3 months old. He graduated from International School of the Peninsula (now known as Silicon Valley International School) in 2013 and Palo Alto High School, where he was a member of the Class of 2017.

At Paly, he was involved with the school's Fiery Arts program, for which his parents still volunteer. Max Lenail also was involved with the school's renowned debate team.

"In Palo Alto, he was extremely popular and loved there," his father said.

Max Lenail went on to study biology at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, where he had been enrolled since 2017.

In January, Max Lenail moved to San Diego with his friends from Brown University, where he planned to finish his last quarter remotely and graduate as a pre-med student in May.

Max Lenail chose the location for its proximity to nature, his father said.

"He was looking for a place where he could study and finish his classes that he needed to graduate, but also a place that had a ton of outdoor possibilities," Ben Lenail said of his son. "He was a fanatical rock climber, runner and an outdoorsman."

Around Palo Alto, Max Lenail frequented Arastradero Preserve and Huddart Park, especially when he was back home during the summer last year, according to his father.

Ben Lenail said he'll remember his son for many qualities outside of his fondness for nature: his penchant for French cuisine; the smells that emitted from the kitchen of their Palo Alto home as he cooked three meals a day; and his musical hum.

"I can't sing 'The Star-Spangled Banner' if my life depended on it, but Max had this kind of incredible memory for music, so I'll remember him singing all day: Bach, Schubert and Ed Sheeran," he said.

A socially-distanced, candlelight vigil will be held on Thursday, Feb. 4, at 7 p.m. at Palo Alto's Eleanor Pardee Park near the intersection of Center Drive and Tevis Place. Friends and family request that attendees wear masks.

A virtual memorial will be held on Saturday, Feb. 6. The time and link to the event is pending.

To honor Max Lenail, his family recommends making a donation to the Van Haren Lab at Stanford Medicine. Max Lenail had interned at the lab and co-authored a scientific paper with Dr. Keith Van Haren, the lab's principal investigator, who was his mentor, according to Ben Lenail. The donation page can be found here.

Max Lenail is survived by his mother, Laurie Yoler; father, Ben Lenail; brother, Alex Lenail; honorary sister, Whitney Lohmeyer of New York; and grandparents, Stan and Judy Cooper of Mill Valley.

Comments

Palo Alto Mom
Registered user
Midtown
on Feb 1, 2021 at 10:38 am
Palo Alto Mom, Midtown
Registered user
on Feb 1, 2021 at 10:38 am

So sorry to hear this tragic news. What a sad and terrible loss. My deepest condolences and blessings to Max's family.


Palo Alto mom
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Feb 1, 2021 at 10:42 am
Palo Alto mom, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Feb 1, 2021 at 10:42 am

I’m so very sorry to hear about such a tragic loss of an inspiring young adult with so much to give to the world. My deepest condolences to the family and all his loved ones. May his memory be a blessing.


NanaDi
Registered user
Midtown
on Feb 1, 2021 at 10:44 am
NanaDi, Midtown
Registered user
on Feb 1, 2021 at 10:44 am

So sorry to learn of this family's tragic loss. Your Son sounds as if he would have made a great contribution to Society, so it is a loss to all of us. May you find comfort in the thought that he died doing something he enjoyed, and may he Rest in Peace.


Jazzy*
Registered user
Menlo Park
on Feb 1, 2021 at 12:18 pm
Jazzy*, Menlo Park
Registered user
on Feb 1, 2021 at 12:18 pm

So sad. Sorry for the tragic loss of this young man. Deepest condolences to Max's family, friends, teachers and all who knew him. He sounds like an amazing young man. This is a loss to the community and world also. I did not know him, but my son also went to Paly Hi and on to med school, and my heart breaks for the family to lose their son. Wishing them love and peace and beautiful memories of this amazing young man who will be with them forever.


Hsin Mei Liu
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Feb 1, 2021 at 1:20 pm
Hsin Mei Liu, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Feb 1, 2021 at 1:20 pm

So very sad to read about the early passing of Max, he sounded like such a great young man who had a great deal to contribute to the world. My deepest condolences.


Rhodoreae
Registered user
Ventura
on Feb 1, 2021 at 3:21 pm
Rhodoreae, Ventura
Registered user
on Feb 1, 2021 at 3:21 pm

I send sympathies to all who loved Max.

I recommend the non-profit Kara for grief support who helped me with my loss of a family member.
Web Link


Paly Mom
Registered user
Palo Alto High School
on Feb 1, 2021 at 4:04 pm
Paly Mom, Palo Alto High School
Registered user
on Feb 1, 2021 at 4:04 pm

My daughter saw him on the Paly campus and he always looked happy. "As immensely cruel as his death is, we are grateful to God for loaning him to us for 21 years." Nice quote from his dad. His spirit went back; our bodies are only shells, he is okay. My condolences to the family.


GaryB
Registered user
Greenmeadow
on Feb 1, 2021 at 7:05 pm
GaryB, Greenmeadow
Registered user
on Feb 1, 2021 at 7:05 pm

Wow, so sorry this happened.

I've been outdoors and have had a couple of situations that could have gone either way, one in particular where I was saved by finding an unexpected handhold on a cliff in Big Sur. I did think how sad my parents would have been if I had missed it. Now that I have kids of my own, it brings it home much more. Again, so sorry.


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