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Video: Family remembers teen killed by shark

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    ANN CURRY, co-host: But we begin this half-hour, Matt , with the deadly shark attack that closed a string of California beaches over the weekend. We're going to talk to the family of a 19-year-old boy, a victim in a shark attack , in just a moment. But first, NBC 's Kristen Welker has the latest on this story. Kristen , good morning.

    KRISTEN WELKER reporting: Good morning to you, Ann. As the sign behind me indicates, this beach is closed and has been since that attack. Now this community is rattled and loved ones are mourning a young man who was so full of life and poised to have a very bright future.

    Offscreen Voice: He was an awesome guy.

    WELKER: In Lucas Ransom 's 19 years, he touched a lot of lives, family and friends who are now devastated.

    Mr. DANIEL DAYRAPETIAN (Friend of Victim of Deadly Shark Attack): There's just so much more of life that he could have lived out, so many more people he could have just blessed.

    WELKER: Last Friday, the junior at the University of California, Santa Barbara was attacked and killed by a shark at Surf Beach , a public area of Vandenberg Air Force Base , 130 miles northwest of Los Angeles . Everyone here stunned.

    Mr. NATHAN SAPIKOWSKI (Surfer): It makes you think that you could die at any time doing anything, especially something that you love.

    WELKER: Ransom was an avid water sportsman. Before class, he and a friend paddled out to catch what looked like some good waves. They were about 100 yards offshore when the shark hit.

    Mr. JASON GROSSINI (Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department): The friend was surfing, the victim was boogie boarding. Saw his friend go underwater for a brief moment, came up, something was wrong, noticed that he had been attacked by a shark.

    WELKER: The blue water instantly turned red, Ransom 's friend told The Associated Press . He was able to pull the young man to shore, but Ransom 's leg was mauled and it was too late.

    Mr. STEVE BLAIR (Aquarium of the Pacific): This was probably a great white shark .

    WELKER: Ransom 's Boogie board bears the signs of a large animal with a bite mark more than a foot wide. Witnesses estimate the shark was 14 to 18 feet long. Experts say white sharks are often found in the cold waters off California , and they feed on small seals and sea lions.

    Mr. BLAIR: The great white sharks can come close to shore if their natural prey items are near shore.

    WELKER: Still, shark attacks are rare. Prior to this there have only been 30 unprovoked attacks in California over the last decade, three fatal.

    Mr. JEFF RUPERT: He was just a genuine good person to be around.

    WELKER: Three years ago, Jeff Rupert and Ransom were lifeguards together at a community pool. That summer, at age 16, Ransom was honored for helping to save a five-year-old boy's life.

    Mr. RUPERT: Lucas was a -- was a hero that day. He administered rescue breathing and saved the young boy 's life.

    WELKER: A young man who left a big impact in the short time he lived. Now, two other area beaches were also closed. All three are expected to reopen today pending final approval from beach officials. Surfers already saying they will go back in these waters. Ann :

    CURRY: All right, Kristen Welker this morning. Kristen , thank you. We're joined now by Lucas Ransom 's parents, Candace and Matthew , and his older brother Travis . Good morning to all of you. And please accept our condolences this morning.

    Ms. CANDACE RANSOM: Good morning.

    Mr. MATTHEW RANSOM: Good morning. Thank you.

    Mr. TRAVIS RANSOM: Thanks.

    Ms. RANSOM: Thank you.

    CURRY: We understand that Lucas was an avid swimmer, he was a polo player, he was also an avid bodyboarder. Matthew , had he ever expressed any kind of fear about being in the water?

    Mr. M. RANSOM: No. No, he really loved living life to the fullest and he just wanted to have fun. And he was safe about most things and he loved life.

    CURRY: Travis , I know that you bodyboarded with your -- with your brother. How would you describe why he liked it so much?

    Mr. T. RANSOM: Oh, I think every surfer -- it's hard to put it into words, what you feel out there, but you're just -- you're out with the ocean and it's like nothing else matters when you're riding waves. It's an amazing feeling. To put it into words wouldn't do it justice, but it's just a great feeling to be out there. And I know he shared it and I know he felt it while he was out there before the event happened.

    CURRY: Hm .

    Mr. M. RANSOM: Yeah.

    Mr. T. RANSOM: And I know he really enjoyed what he was doing out there.

    CURRY: Candace , on the day of this, as Travis called it, event, you were, however, concerned about his surfing plans that day. Why?

    Ms. RANSOM: Well, he had called me, he was so excited, he was saying that there were -- 'Mama, there's 10-foot waves!' And I thought, well, you know, this wasn't the first time he'd gone in big waves, but I was concerned for his safety. And the other part was is that -- is that he was -- he was in an area that he had never been in before and I was concerned that being in an area he hadn't been familiar with, that the undertow and that sort of thing -- I told him I didn't want him to break his neck like his father had recently in a car accident.

    CURRY: Hm. And you told him to...

    Ms. RANSOM: But he said -- he goes, 'Mom, I'll be' -- he goes, 'Mom, I'll be fine.' He goes, 'I'll give you a call when I get -- when I get out.'

    CURRY: Hm . I understand that he even joked the night before, Matthew , with his friend Matthew Garcia about sharks. I mean it was sort of -- he -- they were just sort of making a joke about it. Is that right? Is that what you heard?

    Mr. M. RANSOM: Yeah, something like that. Did you hear that, Travis ?

    Mr. T. RANSOM: Yeah, I heard that, that they were joking about it. And, you know, every surfer kind of has that in the back of your head and it's in the very far back. You go out there to enjoy life and celebrate and you don't really think about it. But I know they were...

    Mr. M. RANSOM: Such a rarity, you know.

    Mr. T. RANSOM: Yeah. I know they were -- they joked about it. But it's something you really joke about. It never really hits home until something like this happens.

    CURRY: It is very...

    Ms. RANSOM: That may have been why...

    CURRY: Go ahead.

    Ms. RANSOM: I was just going to say that may have been why his girlfriend who was up there had prompted him to say, 'Please don't go up there because of the sharks'...

    CURRY: Hm .

    Ms. RANSOM: ...and it may have -- them talking about it the night before may have prompted her to think about that.

    CURRY: Mm-hmm. As you mentioned, it is very rare. There have been something like 100 attacks since the 1920s . But the main reason you wanted to speak out this morning so soon after the loss of your son is because you want to say what a great kid he was. He was studying for, as I understand, to be a pharmacist at US -- UC Santa Barbara . He had been studying chemical engineering . He had a lot of hopes and dreams ahead of him. What do you want to say, Candace , about your boy this morning?

    Ms. RANSOM: He was one of a kind , he really was. He was an incredible young man. And his personality was bigger than life, but I really feel blessed that he was a gift from God for me. And he was the kind of person that had such a radiance about him that his eyes -- he just sparkled and his smile would melt your -- melt your heart.

    CURRY: Yeah.

    Ms. RANSOM: But he just was the kind of person who cared about everybody. And what I really wanted to share is that I'm saddened that he's not going to be able to see -- he had two dreams, and one of the dreams was that he graduate next year with -- in chemistry from UC Santa Barbara , but the other was that he always wanted to make a difference in other people's lives. And we're hoping that we can set up a scholarship for him for students there that are in the field of chemistry or chemical engineering that come from underprivileged areas so that they will have that opportunity to be able to see their dreams, the dream that Lucas had. He was -- he really loved the school and what he was doing.

    CURRY: Wow, you are sweet.

    Ms. RANSOM: We hope we can help that happen.

    CURRY: Well, I imagine...

    Mr. M. RANSOM: Yeah, he and his brothers both -- Travis , and he has a stepbrother, Josh Ransom -- they're pretty much the reason why I'm here. You know, the first half of my life, it wasn't -- it -- I had a hard time , and then we got married and we had unbelievable kids. And, you know, I wondered if they were mine at times because they didn't grow up the way I did.

    CURRY: Hm. Hm.

    Mr. M. RANSOM: And they helped me to -- just to do better in life. You know, you got kids like that...

    CURRY: Well...

    Mr. M. RANSOM: ...you've got to do good for them.

    CURRY: Well, obviously you two are going to be doing good in Lucas ' name, and that is remarkable.

    Mr. M. RANSOM: Thanks.

    CURRY: And the love you're showing for him and for your family and for Travis this morning also touch us all, and that way you have made a difference. Candace and Matt and Travis Ransom , our best to you, and thank you for speaking to us this morning.

TODAY contributor
updated 10/25/2010 9:26:36 AM ET 2010-10-25T13:26:36

When Lucas Ransom and Matthew Garcia waded into the heavy surf with their bodyboards to challenge 6- to 8-foot waves, the Northern California college students knew there was a possibility — albeit a remote one — that they could be attacked by sharks that feed on seals, sea lions and other marine mammals.

“I heard they were joking about that. Every surfer kind of has that in the back of your head,” Travis Ransom, Lucas’ older brother, told TODAY’s Ann Curry on Monday. “You go out there to enjoy life and celebrate it. You don’t really think about it.”

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But instead of celebrating life, Matthew Garcia witnessed the violent death of his 19-year-old friend that day. Despite Garcia’s attempts to save him, Lucas Ransom quickly bled to death after a shark estimated at 16 to 18 feet long mauled his left leg.

‘Help me, dude!’
According to Garcia, the attack about 100 yards off Surf Beach came without warning and turned perfectly blue water red in an instant.

“When the shark hit him, he just said, ‘Help me, dude!’ ” Garcia told The Associated Press. “He knew what was going on.”

This photo shows the bite of a shark on a bodyboard on which Lucas Ransom, 19, was killed Friday in a shark attack off a California beach.

Ransom’s mother, Candace, told Curry during a live interview on Monday that she was not thinking about sharks when she implored Lucas, a junior studying chemical engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara, not to go “boogie-boarding” without studying the area more closely first.

Video: Family remembers teen killed by shark (on this page)

Because of the swells Lucas Ransom was telling his mother about, she was concerned that her son with “sparkling eyes” and a “smile that would melt your heart” might drown in a strong undertow or suffer a “broken neck” from a fall off the board.

Frank Bellino  /  AP
Lucas Ransom in a 2007 photo. His mother said he had a “smile that would melt your heart.”

“He was so excited. He said, ‘Mama, there are 10-foot waves,’ ” Candace Ransom said. “I was concerned for his safety … He was in an area where he had never been before.”

Lucas, who had planned to surf for just a short time before heading for classes at the nearby UC Santa Barbara campus, told his mother not to worry.

“He said, ‘Mom, I’ll be fine. I’ll give you a call when I get out,’ ” Candace Ransom told Curry.

Rare phenomenon
Despite being aware of the risk of shark attack, Lucas, as a certified lifeguard and longtime surfer, probably also knew that fatal attacks were also rare.

Video: Expert: Shark attacks still rare (on this page)

Experts say that sharks like the one that killed Ransom — most likely a great white — sometimes mistake surfers wearing dark wetsuits for the marine mammals they feed on.

Although he and Garcia joked the night before about the possibility one of them could be bitten by a shark, Ransom enjoyed the rush of adrenaline he got from surfing, water polo and other sports.

Image: Warning sign of recent shark attack
Spencer Weiner  /  AP
Military personnel post a sign warning surfers of the shark attack that killed Lucas Ransom Friday.

“He really loved living life to the fullest,” said his father, Matthew Ransom. “He just wanted to have fun, and he was safe about most things.”

Related: She pulled her husband from the jaws of a shark

Travis Ransom said he is certain that his younger brother got the thrill he was searching for in the surf before he was attacked without warning by the shark.

Video: Shark attack claims Calif. teenager's life (on this page)

“It’s hard to put into words what you feel out there,” said Travis, who sometimes accompanied his brother surfing. “You are out with the ocean. Nothing else matters when you are riding the waves. It’s an amazing feeling … I know he felt it while he was out there before the event happened.”

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Candace Ransom said she was “blessed” to have Lucas as her son, and regrets that he did not live long enough to realize his dreams of graduating from college next year and making a difference in other people’s lives.

Related: Divers recount escape from shark

Toward those goals, the family is looking into establishing a scholarship in Lucas’ name to fund tuition assistance for underprivileged students pursuing degrees in chemical engineering at the University of California.

The last known shark attack in the area where Lucas Ransom was killed was in 2008, when what was believed to be a great white bit a surfer’s board. The last fatal shark attack in the state was that same year, when a 66-year-old triathlete bled to death after a shark bit his legs.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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