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Flagstaff mourns NAU professor as search continues for her missing husband

Yeon-Su Kim and her husband, Corey Allen, went kayaking Thanksgiving Day and never returned.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — While the community is mourning the loss of a Northern Arizona University professor, the search continues to locate her missing husband. 

Yeon-Su Kim and Corey Allen went missing on Thanksgiving Day when the two went kayaking in Rocky Point, Mexico. 

Kim, the director of NAU's School of Forestry, was found dead Sunday. 

"My heart hurts because it's just - I hope this isn't the end of the story," said JoAnna Ignace, a co-worker of Allen.

According to a GoFundMe posted by a family friend, Allen dropped the couple's daughter back at the shore before going back out to help Kim. 

"He recognized that there was a dangerous situation there. He got [their daughter] out of that as quickly as he could. And then he turned right around, went back into it, and did his best to rescue Yeon-Su. And to me, that is a tribute to Corey. It's not at all surprising that he would be like that," said Jim Allen, interim dean of NAU's College of the Environment Forestry and Natural Sciences.

Search organizers say though, Thursday was a windy day with extreme tide. 

"If you find yourself in the water on an extreme tide with wind, it's a disaster, even if you're the most experienced person," said Tavane McCombs, who's been helping organize searches in Mexico. 

Searches, including those with local authorities, continue for Allen. McCombs said the organizers are battling the same elements that the couple did Thursday. 

"If he's (Allen) is still in the water, then he's got to fight the tide in the wind that's coming up. But I think it helps us get help to him faster, being able to see the bottom of the ocean and see if there's any breadcrumb trails he left us," McCombs said. 

McCombs said there's still hope to find Allen alive. 

"There was a life jacket. There was two kayaks, we understand from friends that have contacted us they were actually campers and outdoor-type people, that that gave us courage," McCombs said. 

After hearing the news the couple was missing, Ignace said she began reflecting on her interactions with Allen. 

"He just was the kind of guy if you needed anything, he was right there. No questions asked. No expectations needed. 'I got you covered JoAnna, don't worry about it.'," Ignace said. 

While waiting over the past four days, Ignace said she's thought back to when she lost her sister-in-law in a kayaking accident on the Colorado River 13 years ago. 

"It's the waiting," Ignace said. "The waiting, the unknown, and the hope. You're just kind of in a twilight zone, is the only way I know how to describe it." 

Adding, the Flagstaff is a tight-knit community and now stands behind the family as they navigate this time. 

"I'm one of like 100,000 out there who know Corey and feel like this was our family," Ignace said. 

The NAU community is also feeling the pain of losing Kim.

"She wasn't a big person, but she left a big footprint. And we're still wrestling with exactly how big that footprint is," Jim Allen said.  

Allen said he counted the couple as personal friends, and Kim as a great professional colleague too. 

Kim made an impact beyond the School of Forestry, but in the forestry profession as a whole, Jim Allen added.

He noted how he had already received several sympathy notes from people, including deans, directors and chairs from other institutions associated with the National Association of University Forest Resource Programs, regarding Kim's death. 

Beyond her research surrounding ecological economics, Jim Allen said Kim is known at NAU for her advocacy of diversity in the white, male-dominated forestry profession. 

"She was a strong advocate for hiring in mentoring faculty members that may be female or from underrepresented groups. She was doing her best to raise funds to support students coming in from underrepresented groups," Jim Allen said. 

Her legacy is what Jim Allen said the school will be working to honor and carry on through the program, while remembering how Kim was "amazingly nice, warm," and social. 

"She was all about people, about working with people, supporting people, doing things that were for them, not for her," Jim Allen said. 

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