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Cambria teen found dead in Nacimiento Lake remembered as ‘responsible,’ ‘kindhearted’

Dante Garcia during a cross country track meet in October, 2015.
Dante Garcia during a cross country track meet in October, 2015.

Dante Garcia Mora spent his final days doing what many San Luis Obispo County teens do during the summer: showing a pig at the Mid-State Fair.

The 16-year-old from Cambria, who went by Dante Garcia and was preparing to start his junior year at Coast Union High School, touted his pig — jokingly named Slim, though he barely weighed in under the 270-pound threshold — at the fair’s market and showmanship competitions with other National FFA Organization members.

But when Slim was auctioned off Saturday, Garcia wasn’t there to see his pig sold to the highest bidder.

The teen’s body was found Friday night in Nacimiento Lake, where he’d gone swimming with friends that afternoon. Witnesses told investigators Garcia had been in the water near the Heritage Ranch area when he swam away from the group. Garcia appeared to be in distress before going underwater. After that, bystanders couldn’t find him.

Sheriff’s officials searched for Garcia with assistance from Cal Fire, Monterey County park rangers and a Mercy Air helicopter from Fort Hunter-Liggett, authorities said.

A San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s dive team located the teen’s body about 8:30 p.m. — almost three hours after he was first reported missing — according to a Sheriff’s Office news release.

The Sheriff’s Office is investigating the incident as a drowning. An autopsy will be conducted on Wednesday to determine the cause of Garcia’s death.

Garcia was a busy student. He played soccer and volleyball and ran cross country in addition to participating in FFA.

Dante Garcia Mora of Cambria spent his final days doing what many San Luis Obispo County teens do during the summer: showing a pig at the Mid-State Fair. The 16-year-old's body was found Friday night in Nacimiento Lake, where he’d gone swimming.

He also was part of the YMCA Youth Institute/Digital Media Arts Program for the past four years and was an intern during the 2015-16 academic year. His team won the award for Best Promotional Video at the 2016 San Luis Obispo International Film Festival’s Filmmakers of Tomorrow Showcase.

Cheryl Croneis-Seay, a Coast Union counselor, said in an emailed statement that Garcia was “a natural leader in all aspects of life and a wonderful academic student.”

“His parents and family members supported him in all his endeavors,” Croneis-Seay wrote. “He was respected and loved also by his peers, teachers and community members.”

At the fair on Saturday, Darcy Dobrec, a Coast Union teacher and FFA advisor, remembered Garcia as “quiet but very kindhearted” and “the responsible one.”

“He was always really good about listening,” Dobrec said.

A couple of the teens in Coast Union’s FFA sold Slim at the auction and will give the money to Garcia’s family, Dobrec said.

Those interested in helping could also “add on” money to the final sale price before the end of the day, she said.

A sign encouraging fairgoers to add on to Slim’s sale price, with all proceeds going to the “Dante Garcia Memorial Fund,” was taped to the pig’s pen in one of the hog barns. Coast Union FFA members gathered near the pen described Garcia as someone who got along well with nearly everyone.

Cammie Tatham, 17, said soccer was Garcia’s passion, but he was very determined in all aspects of his life, including raising his pig.

Garcia was always “down to talk to new people,” said Brandon Loredo, 15.

“He was a very silly guy,” said Sophia Mendoza, 16. “I never once saw him upset.”

Lindsey Holden: 805-781-7939, @lindseyholden27

Tribune staff writer Mark Powell contributed to this report.

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