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Aspenite’s fatal shark attack will air on TV

Charles Agar
Aspen Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado

ASPEN, Colorad ” The story of Tessa Horan, the former Aspen High School student who was killed in a shark attack in Tonga, will be featured as part of “Shark Week” on the Discovery Channel later this month.

Horan, who attended Aspen High School from 1996 to 1998, was a Peace Corps volunteer on the South Pacific island of Va’vau in the Kingdom of Tonga (near Fiji) when, on Feb. 1, 2006, she lost her life to a tiger shark attack.

Following a game of soccer, Horan was swimming in a Tongan bay when the shark pulled her under water. She resurfaced with most of her right leg missing and died quickly from loss of blood, according to reports.

She was 24.

On Monday, July 28, her story will be featured in a prime-time segment entitled “Day of the Shark” as part of “Shark Week” on the Discovery Channel.

The show was produced to reveal “the science behind what triggers sharks to attack at certain times of day, and what rules humans should follow to avoid incident,” according to the Discovery Channel website.

But for Horan’s mother, Kristena Prater, the Discovery Channel taping was another step in the long grieving and healing process.

“You never get over losing a child, but it gives me solace to be able to continue her

work with her family and friends,” Prater said. “Even in her death she has

accomplished so much and been such an inspiration.”

In the wake of the attack, Horan has become a “universal symbol” for inspired young people like her, Prater said.

And Horan’s two brothers and sister as well as her father, Kevin Horan, other family members and friends have done everything from building the library in Tonga that

Horan dreamed of to creating community gardens around the U.S. and in Tonga.

Prater made her own film, “Piece by Peace,” about her daughter and young people the world over, and said the TV producers contacted her after the film screened at a festival in New Mexico.

Like the rest of her family, Prater divides her time between Aspen and a home in Santa Fe, N.M., traveled to Tonga in June to help arrange the Discovery Channel film shoot there.

Returning to the scene for the second time ” the entire family went to the island in 2006 to build the library ” opened up an “intimacy with what happened to Tessa when she died,” Prater said.

At times during the shoot, Prater had to ask the crew to stop filming to give her a few moments to absorb the tragic events of that day.

“It was very bitter-sweet,” Prater said about the visit.

But Prater is coming to terms with the loss of her daughter.

“The people in this program talk about the ocean as a wilderness,” Prater said. “The sharks are doing their normal thing; they’re just hunting for food.”

And while she doesn’t plan to watch the Discovery Channel segment, Prater said the televised piece is an important way to understand why sharks attack.

Horan will be featured as one of five shark incidents in the segment ” and the only fatality ” and scientist will look at all contributing factors, everything from the eco-system of the area and time of day to the behavior of victims, as a way to better understand shark behavior, Prater said.

There are a handful of theories as to what prompted the attack that took Horan’s life, Prater said.

Some scientists believe the shark mistook Horan for a baby calf whale.

Others believe it was the shiny floral pattern on the Horan’s clothes ” Tonga is a very conservative society and women swim clothed, Prater said.

In the wake of the incident, Horan’s story is now woven into the fabric of local storytelling, and Tongan people have their own version, Prater said.

“She’s part of their folklore there now,” she said.

During a kava ceremony it was revealed that the shark took Horan because she was such a good person and a family somewhere wanted her.

“That was a little hard for me,” Prater said of the local tale.

The shark attack was the first in more than 100 years of history of the island nation.

“My children are still grieving, but they’re doing what Tessa would have wanted them to do,” Prater said.

The family maintains a foundation and does humanitarian work on Horan’s behalf (more information at http://www.tessahoran.com), and the “Day of the Shark” episode will air during prime time on the Discovery Channel on Monday, July 28.

cagar@aspentimes.com


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