Michael Ramirez jumped into the Kern River at the Keyesville Campground Thursday evening and disappeared.
Now a small army of his friends and family spend every day hunting along miles of the Kern River for the man who was known as Dossicc in the Orange County underground music scene.
Erica Zambada, who planned to marry Ramirez, said he was an emcee in Rebellion Warfare, a underground hip-hop group that she described as one that defied commercial music to tell real stories about life and the struggle to survive.
“The way that he expresses himself, the way that he paints a picture for you, it is a gift you’re born with,” she said.
Ramirez turned 27 on June 19. Zambada said she surprised him with a camping trip to the Kern River.
The pair were joined by fellow Rebellion Warfare member Christ Cabalero and his girlfriend for the trip.
But when they got into the Kern River Valley at around 11 a.m. Thursday they learned that the campground where they’d planned to camp had been flooded by the river, Zambada said.
They spent much of the rest of the day searching for a new place to camp, finally locating a workable spot in the Keyesville campground near the river, she said.
Temperatures were in the 100s.
After unpacking and setting up the tent, Zambada said, Ramirez said he wanted to cool off in the river.
The group headed down to the water.
The water seemed safe, Zambada said, and Ramirez checked the flow before jumping in.
He swam back, climbed out, jumped in a second time, and swam back again. Then he jumped again.
“The third time he was having trouble swimming back,” Zambada said.
The women tied a rope to Cabalero and he jumped in after his friend.
Zambada said Cabalero got within a foot of Ramirez before the water swept him away and began sucking at his would-be rescuer.
“The undercurrent was too strong. We had to pull Christ back in,” Zambada said.
She said she tried to run after Ramirez, following him down the river.
But trees choked the bank and he disappeared before she could get past them and up a small hill to the next good view of the river, she said.
She called 911; Kern Valley Search and Rescue was on scene within minutes, she said.
They couldn’t find him.
Ramirez is the third person to be lost from Keyesville this summer. The other two died, their bodies discovered downstream.
Not far upstream from the campground the swollen Kern River roars out of the Isabella Lake dam at nearly 5,000 cubic feet per second, a strategy that helps to reduce the remote risk that the pressure of a full lake could cause the dam to fail.
So far in 2017 six people have died in the Kern River.
Zambada said Search and Rescue team members told her that Ramirez is likely dead.
She rejects that idea outright.
“I have faith that he is still alive,” she said. “He is a good swimmer. He knows survival skills.”
By 11:30 a.m. the morning after he disappeared, Ramirez’s parents and 20 friends were at the Kern River and ready to search for him, Zambada said.
Since then they’ve scoured the Kern River every day, covering the river from the spot he went in to Miracle Hot Springs roughly eight miles away.
Search and Rescue teams are out there too, Zambada said.
“If it wasn’t for search and rescue there would be no one looking for him,” she said.
But the group is completely made up of volunteers and they can’t spend all day on the river. At most they put in a few hours each day.
So she and Michael’s family and his friends keep up the hunt.
“Michael was very loved,” she said. “I am thankful that he has so many people who genuinely love him ... out to help look for him.”
But Zambada said she is deeply frustrated by the lack of action by people in Kern County to protect visitors from the river’s dangers.
Visitors from Southern California don’t hear about the dangers of the river.
People are welcomed into the campgrounds, like Keyesville, and they bring children who don’t belong near the river.
There is a big sign at the mouth of the Kern River Canyon telling people about the 280 people who have died in the Kern County section of the river in the past several decades.
And there are smaller signs in some locations that warn of the water's dangers. But those smaller signs aren't everywhere.
And Zambada said there isn't enough being done to warn people to avoid the water.
The river, she feels, should be closed.
But locals resist those drastic measures, Zambada said, because they would compromise the economic benefits tourists bring to Kern County.
What would she tell people from Southern California who want to come to the Kern River and enjoy themselves safely?
“Don’t come. It’s 115 degrees. What are people going to do when it’s 115 degrees? They get in the water,” she said. “Getting in the water should not be an option. That water is evil. Don’t go in.”
As for her and the crew of people who love Ramirez, they will keep hunting.
“We don’t plan on stopping until we’ve found him,” she said.