Prayer service held for James Wernke

FULLERTON, Calif. Missing Santa Ana College baseball player James Wernke disappeared over the weekend. His body was found along a Fullerton creek Tuesday.

James Wernke was last seen leaving his girlfriend's mother's house in the 3000 block of Sunnywood Drive at about 2 p.m. Saturday to walk her yellow Labrador retriever Kealie.

Search and rescue teams found the body shortly after 10 a.m. in the Brea Creek channel about 100 yards south of Bastanchury Road.

The search for Wernke centered around the steep, rain-swollen banks of Brea creek. Six search and rescue teams, five with dogs, scoured the area Monday. On Tuesday morning, they retraced their steps and made the grim discovery.

Police say there were no signs of foul play. Authorities presume Wernke went into the creek bed during a rain storm when the creek was at full force. They say it appears he was carried downstream by the flood waters Saturday from where he either fell in or jumped in to save the dog.

"There's no evidence of an assault or any suspicious activity. Based on the location where the body had come to rest, it's consistent with having been in the overflowing creek that was occurring on Saturday, where the creek went from a depth of a foot to about six to eight feet," said Fullerton Police Lt. Alex Bastreri.

News of the discovery spread quickly. Wernke's friends and teammates rushed to his girlfriend's mother's home to be with the family. Most couldn't believe the life of such a strong, gifted young man could end so tragically.

"It's something you'd never see coming because this is a kid that had so much joy in life and shared it with so many people," said family friend Jack Gyben. "It is a tragedy because he brought so much to a lot of us and we will miss him terribly."

The 21-year-old was a standout pitcher on the Santa Ana College baseball team. He recently won a full scholarship to play at California State University, Long Beach, and was being scouted by a number of major league teams.

After Wernke went missing over the weekend, dozens of volunteers posted fliers and joined in the search.

"They've been so appreciative of so many people putting up posters, bows on behalf of them and James, and trying to find James. They really want to thank just so many people who've been out combing, looking to see if they could help," Gyben said of Wernke's family.

The family held a prayer vigil at 7 p.m. Tuesday at St. Juliana Catholic Church, located at 1316 North Acacia Ave. in Fullerton.

The coroner's office must make a formal identification, but authorities said they are sure it's Wernke. Authorities have not determined a cause of death.

Police say they will continue to search for the dog, which remains missing.

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