YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. -- Young tourists above one of Yosemite National Park's beautiful and perilous waterfalls were trying to pose for a picture. Instead they burned a horrifying image into the memories of everyone who saw.
A man and a woman crossed a metal barricade above the 317-foot Vernal Fall on Tuesday, making their way over slick granite to a rock in the middle of the swift Merced River.
The woman slipped. The man reached for her and fell in. Another man in their group of about 10 tried to help but fell into the water as well. Other hikers, including several children in their group, could only watch as the rushing water swept all three students over the edge.
The couple who were on the rock hugged each other tightly as they disappeared.
"Everyone was screaming," witness Jake Bibee said.
"People were praying. What I will take away with me forever is the look on that grown man's face as he was floating down that river knowing he was going to die and nobody could help them."
Signs in several languages warn people not to cross the barricade, and Mr. Bibee said other hikers had shouted that it wasn't safe to go into the rushing river.
Mr. Bibee, 28, has hiked the Mist Trail many times, and he knows how dangerous the wilderness can be.
"People come up here and they think it's Disneyland," he said.
The three students -- all Californians -- are presumed dead; rescuers continued searching for their bodies Wednesday.
The Yosemite Search and Rescue unit identified them as Hormiz David, 22, of Modesto; Ninos Yacoub, 27, of Turlock; and Ramina Badal, 21, of Manteca.
The victims were part of a community of Christians from the Middle East who have been settling in California's Central Valley during the past century.
They were members of the Mar Gewargis Parish in Ceres, where a prayer service was planned Wednesday evening. The church is part of the Assyrian Church of the East.
"It's very shocking to our community," said the Rev. Auchana Kanoun, who leads the parish.
Ninos Piro said outside the Mar Zaia Cathedral in Modesto that he was friends with all three victims.
Mr. David was studying music production at Modesto Junior College, Mr. Yacoub was studying chemistry at California State University, Stanislaus, and Ms. Badal attended the University of San Francisco and had hoped to become a doctor, Mr. Piro said.