Young Nigerian immigrant who drowned leaves legacy of hope in Tacoma

Linsey Mike Nkanang started every class with a smile and a handshake.

The 16-year-old would greet each of his classmates that way before diving into his schoolwork for the day, said Amanda Quintana, Linsey’s teacher who was helping him work toward a GED.

“He would do it every morning,” Quintana said. “He was so outgoing and friendly.”

The young immigrant from Nigeria had been living in Tacoma only nine months when he drowned on June 14, cutting short his American experience.

Linsey’s death was the latest in a string of tragedies for a faith-filled family that fled its home country amid religious riots. Leaving behind three other siblings after the death of their father, Linsey and his twin sister moved to the United States with the help of their mother, who was already in Tacoma.

The accident that took Linsey’s life happened on a weekend camping trip at Rainbow Falls State Park in Chehalis while swimming with friends.

Linsey went to the edge of a rock ledge overlooking the Chehalis River, pointed and smiled at a friend below, and jumped in, said classmate Savanna Christine Anne, who invited him on the trip.

“He just went under and started panicking,” she said.

She went in after him, grabbing his hand for a moment before losing his grip, she said.

“I thought he was playing a sick trick,” Anne said.

Within seconds, the river’s current dragged Linsey under.

Shocked and grief-stricken, the Nkanang family went to the river the next morning to see the search efforts.

Rescue teams found the boy’s body that morning.

“I never wanted to believe my brother was dead, until they brought his body out of the water,” said Mae Nkanang, Linsey’s twin sister. “He just left home on Friday, how could he be dead?”

There will be a wake keeping for Linsey from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Saturday at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Tacoma. There will also be a memorial service at noon on July 12 at Mountain View Funeral Home in Lakewood. Both events are open to the public.

Linsey was working on getting his GED at The REACH Center in Tacoma, which provides career development and educational services to young adults.

Anne said he recently started a job at Office Depot in Gig Harbor, and was about to begin an internship at the REACH Center over the summer.

She said Linsey was at the center everyday with a positive attitude, encouraging classmates to seek out opportunities.

“He showed me that I could be a better person,” Anne said. “He could make anyone and everyone smile.”

She said he brought an infectious enthusiasm into the center and wanted to go to college. Friends said they could have seen him as a motivational speaker. Family said he wanted to join the Army to serve his new country.

Kurt Miller, director of the center, said Linsey was full of energy and had a passion for education.

“You knew he was just here to succeed, there was something about him,” Miller said.

As a devout Christian, Linsey could be found every Sunday at his church, leading the congregation in worship songs, said Fred Aiwekhoe, a pastor at the Christ Apostolic Church Mount of Restoration in Tacoma.

He said Linsey had a tremendous passion for his faith. He was scheduled to lead worship the same day rescue crews found his body.

Linsey’s mother Umoh Mike said her son was making a seamless transition into American culture, hanging out with friends and getting involved in the community.

“He adjusted as if he was from America already,” Mike said.

As with many immigrants, it was a crisis in his home country that brought Linsey to America.

Umoh Mike said she was attending a missionary conference in Tacoma in 2010 when riots broke out between Christians and Muslims in Northern Nigeria.

Linsey’s father was the president of a church in the northern city of Kano, making the family a target for Muslim rioters, she said.

The twins fled south to Lagos, Nigeria, to escape the violence and live with relatives. But it was too late for their father, who had a fatal heart attack running away from Muslim rioters, Umoh Mike said.

Despite Linsey’s death, Quintana said memories of the boy continue to inspire classmates as they work towards their GEDs this summer.

She said his legacy lives on: “Treat others like family and take advantage of opportunities.”