Finding her son’s body was Shirley McNamara’s greatest hope, and deepest fear.
As she stood next to the Puyallup River Saturday morning, watching family and friends prepare to probe the chilly waters for 29-year-old Josh McNamara, two fishermen downriver spotted his body.
The men were looking for a spot to cast along the riverbank on Levee Road in Fife when they found the body, which had snagged on a log just east of 70th Street East.
The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office had not yet identified the man, but officials said it likely was McNamara.
Shirley McNamara had to go to the spot. She needed to see.
“This can start the (grieving) process,” she said, swallowing tears.
Although she initially thought about marking the area with flowers, she decided instead to honor the spot where Josh McNamara disappeared July 8 while floating downstream on an inner tube.
That was where she lost her son, she said.
Josh McNamara floated away in the 12800 block of McMillan Road just north of Orting, 11 miles upriver from where his body was found. More than 30 volunteers searched three days for any sign of him or his red and yellow inner tube, using probes, sonar, cadaver dogs, a helicopter and divers.
They found no sign of the man who made everyone smile, loved the outdoors and doted on his 2-year-old daughter.
“It always weighs on your mind. We really feel for the families,” said Pierce County sheriff’s Sgt. Trent Stephens, who oversees one of the department’s search teams. “We understand what it means to them to have sort closure.”
Without that closure when Josh McNamara first disappeared, his mother decided to search on her own. She couldn’t just wait at her Everett home and hope somebody would find him. She needed to be there, to see the murky water that hid her son, to try everything she could to bring him home.
So she drove down nearly every weekend and walked the riverbanks, handing out fliers with Josh McNamara’s photo and sometimes warning people frolicking in the water to wear life vests.
Friends and family joined in, scouring the area on their own for 41 days.
John Hamilton, who worked with Josh McNamara at Kent-based RS Construction & Excavation Inc., paid for cadaver dogs to be brought out a second time. He bought a raft so he could probe the waters with a long stick to see if there was anything out of the ordinary beneath the surface.
“I love little Josh and I’d like to find his body,” said Hamilton, who remembered his friend as “a good-hearted guy.”
Also leading the private searches was Keith Swezey, who once lived next door to the McNamaras and considered Josh McNamara to be like a son.
“This is the last thing we can do for Josh,” Swezey said as he zipped up a wet suit Saturday morning and prepared to get into the river.
Those who knew Josh McNamara recalled his happy-go-lucky attitude, his handiness with tools, how he idolized his little girl, Chevell.
“People loved Joshua,” said his father, Michael McNamara, who lives in California. “He made friends easily. He was a very good young man.”
Josh McNamara was a mechanic by trade and spent his free time riding ATVs and camping. The center of his world was his daughter, who turned 2 days after he disappeared .
The family scrambled to find the birthday present Josh McNamara had literally spent his last penny on. It was a tire swing in the shape of a horse, and he wanted his baby girl to have it because father and daughter shared a love of horses.
“He never had a whole lot but he didn’t ask for a whole lot,” Swezey said. “He was happy with what he had.”
Now, his family is happy to have Josh McNamara back, even if it’s just a body to bury and the memory of his smile clutched close to their hearts.