Soldier from Henrico drowns in swimming accident in Hawaii

Soldier from Henrico drowns in swimming accident in Hawaii

HENRICO, VA (WWBT) - A Henrico family is mourning after the death of a 21-year-old soldier who graduated from basic training last fall. Authorities said Saije Daniel drowned while stationed in Hawaii.

The Highland Springs High School graduate and former football player is now being remembered for his cheerful personality and his concern for others. Still numb, the Daniel’s father recalls the are memories that can’t be forgotten.

"I was beyond proud, you know,” Anthony Daniel said.

When you lose your only child, there’s a pain that only you can truly understand.

“He was my rock, just like I tried my best to be his,” Daniel continued.

He is speaking of his son, 21-year-old Saije Daniel - a private in the U.S. Army. The Henrico native had just been assigned to Hawaii in February.

Authorities say he drowned in an off-duty accident. His body was found near Kailua Beach Park on June 2.

“All I heard was body and when I heard body, I just lost it,” his grandmother Karen Goins said.

His grandmother and father now working to console each other as they cling to memories.

"He loved my cooking. I would make him hero sandwiches and I’d make the homemade guacamole for him and he would love it…Before he went to the military, he asked me to cook him a dinner. I said ‘Saije what do you want?’ He said ‘I want steak. I want chicken pot pie. I want a broccoli casserole and I want some cake.’ And I made it and I made him a candlelight dinner,” his grandmother said with a smile.

Then there’s football. Daniel played for Highland Springs High School for four years, even helping his team win the state championship in 2015.

"{He was} serious on the football player but lighthearted when he was in the locker room with his teammates…He motivated his teammates in multiple ways and he also shared a lot of wisdom with those guys. I’m not sure where that wisdom came from but he was always a guy talking about the future...{He was} strong mentally, strong physically and just had a great heart,” said Highland Springs Coach Loren Johnson.

Dad was there for every game.

"I actually have every game in my phone from 8th grade until senior year, every game," Daniel said.

His family says football and the military made him a better man.

"My first grandson…He turned out to be an exceptional young man,” Goins said. "I can’t count how many times he’s made me proud or never ceased to amaze me,” Daniel added.

The Highland Springs football team plans to dedicate its next season in Daniel’s honor. His father says he will keep the championship ring his son won close to him in a private, safe place as a special keepsake to cherish his young man gone too soon.

“In the Army, we consider our greatest asset to be our people. Our soldiers are what make our Army strong,” Lt. Col. Scott C. Sinclair, 3-7 Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, said. “The loss of a soldier is felt deeply in our Army and in our country. With the passing of Private Saije Daniel, we lost not only a teammate but a valued member of the 25th Infantry Division.”

According to the Honolulu Fire Department, someone passing through the area discovered Daniel’s body washed up on shore Sunday at 5:25 a.m. and called 911.

Officials said Daniel went missing off Kalama Beach Park in Kailua on Friday, May 31. Search efforts continued the next day, but were delayed due to a shark sighting.

Rescue crews initially responded to the area about 5:30 p.m. May 31 for reports of a swimmer in distress.

The swimmer was part of a group of three people swimming about 40 yards offshore before requiring assistance. Two females were rescued, including a 19-year-old who was transported to a hospital. The second female did not require medical attention.

Daniel entered military service Aug. 28, 2018, as a field artilleryman. He had been at his post since Feb. 20.

Henrico County Public Schools spokesman Andy Jenks confirmed Tuesday that Daniel graduated from Highland Springs High School in 2016.

“School counselors were made aware over the weekend and have been available this week for any teacher, staff member or student who may have needed someone to talk to,” Jenks said.

NBC12 interviewed Daniel at the ASSIST football combine in 2015 where he talked about the opportunity to participate in the program.

“The chances for colleges to get to know your name and skill set,” Daniel said. “Everything about you - gotta get known.”

Daniel’s awards and decorations include the National Defense Service Medal Ribbon.

A funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday, June 18 at the March Funeral Home on Labernum Avenue.

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