Owensboro resident Steve Wahler, who spent 23 years working at the Messenger-Inquirer newspaper, including 18 years as the newspaper's IT manager, drowned Monday in the Gulf of Mexico near Gulf Shores, Alabama, while trying to save a child in rough surf left over from Hurricane Nate.
Wahler was 47.
According to the Baldwin County (Ala.) Sheriff's Department, Wahler and Bradley Murphy, 21, an Alabama resident, were two of four men who went into the water at Gulf Shores Plantation, a private area on Fort Morgan Peninsula, after a 12-year old boy began struggling in the surf.
"He was hollering for help," said Corporal Shame Robinson, an investigator with the sheriff's department. Hurricane Nate had made the water dangerous.
"There were probably five-foot waves out there," Robinson said. One of the men who went into the water worked for Gulf Shores Plantation. The man later told investigators "he could feel the force pulling him out, and he stopped and dug down to come back in" to shore.
The boy was rescued by one of the men, but Wahler and Murphy were swept away. Wahler's body was recovered later Monday by the Coast Guard. Murphy's was recovered Tuesday.
"Within moments, they were at least 100 yards off shore" and being carried farther out by the tide, Robinson said. Wahler was a hero for trying to assist, Robinson said.
"There was a kid hollering for help and in need of help, and (Wahler) was one who answered the call," Robinson said. "He couldn't see himself standing on shore."
Wahler joined the newspaper as a programmer and systems analyst in 1994 and was promoted to IT manager five years later. Mike Weafer, who will take over as the newspaper's publisher in January, said Wahler handled technology issues in Owensboro and at other papers in the Paxton Media chain.
"Steve was very capable and made countless contributions through his work in technology," Weafer said Tuesday. "... He got calls in the middle of the night, and was just so dedicated. He's going to be missed by this newspaper and everybody here."
Wahler was on vacation with his family in Alabama when Monday's incident occurred. Wahler's job required him to be regularly on call.
"He was most definitely a resource for every paper our hub served," Weafer said. "He had made contributions in every aspect."
Wahler "could be very funny and very witty," Weafer said. When asked how the paper could replace someone like Wahler, with so much experience and knowledge, Weafer said, "you don't."
"He's going to be missed, not only because of (his expertise), but because everybody liked Steve," Weafer said. "... You can't replace the level of support and dedication he gave."
Wahler attended First General Baptist Church in Owensboro. "In my opinion, he's a hero," said the Rev. Larry Shadowen, the church's minister. "It was selfless, and there aren't many selfless people in the world."