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From Their Parents' Memories: Matt Miller and Gavin Powell

The parents of Matt Miller and Gavin Powell, who died last weekend in a rafting accident in Walnut Creek, recall the ways their sons made their world a better place.

The deaths of Las Lomas juniors and best friends Matt Miller and Gavin Powell are breaking so many hearts right now.

They went missing during a along Walnut Creek on Saturday afternoon — a trip that was to be a President's Day weekend adventure. Hundreds of people joined authorities in the search for the two after they didn't return home. Their bodies were found Sunday along the waterway, about five miles north of where they set out near Murwood Elementary School. 

An  impromptu memorial sprang up on a small bridge over the creek. Gavin and Matthew apparently launched their raft beneath the bridge on Vanderslice Avenue, near Kayser Court.

The parents of both young men, despite being devastated by the worst pain a parent can suffer, took a few moments Monday to celebrate their boys' lives by talking to Walnut Creek Patch about all the ways they loved them, were proud of them and found them to be amazing human beings. 

"He could do anything," Bob Miller said about his 16-year-old son, Matt, whom he also called his best friend. Matt was a straight-A student and a gifted musician, athlete and artist. He could paint like American portrait artist John Singer Sargent and discuss politics, such as the transformative events in the Middle East, his dad said. 

He also was gifted in science and considered studying physics in college.  

"He was going to be a star," Miller said. "He was going to be great. I miss him so much." 

Matt and Gavin shared a love of the outdoors, running and hiking in the open space around Walnut Creek. According to Gavin's mother, Julie Powell, the two practically ran all the way up to the top of Mount Diablo.

Matt was in Boy Scouts when he was younger. Miller remembers the time he and his son, in one day, scaled 14,497-foot Mount Whitney, on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada and the highest peak in the contiguous United States. After they reached the top of the peak, "Matt ran all the way down," Miller said. 

Parents of both boys said neither Matt nor Gavin hung with the "popular" crowd, but were well-liked and respected, including among adults, for their kind-hearted, easy-going demeanor.  "He would just talk to people and talk to adults," Miller said. "He spoke well."

Matt and his parents, Bob and Julie, and older sister Hannah, with whom he was very close, moved to Walnut Creek when Matt was 5. He attended and . Gavin attended  

It was at WCI that Matt and Gavin first got to know each other. Both were good math students.

Julie Powell spoke of her only child, Gavin, as being more quiet than his best friend. "He was very sensitive, even as a little kid." Other adults who knew Gavin have said — with fondness and admiration—that he was a little different, maybe a little more dreamy and philosophical. Powell agreed that her son was a bit "eccentric." 

"He definitely marched to his own drummer," another father said of Gavin, whom he called a smart, thoughtful young man—the kind of boy you wouldn't mind your daughter dating. 

Like Matt, Gavin was musically talented and studied piano. The two also shared an interest in world travel. While Matt traveled to various places around the world with his family and taught computer skills to residents of a small community in Nicaragua this past summer, Gavin studied Japanese at Las Lomas High and had developed a fascination with Asian culture. 

A few years ago, he had become a Buddhist and studied meditation at the Buddha Gate Monastery in Lafayette. Gavin, also a good student, planned to apply to a University of California campus. Beyond college, he wanted to travel, live overseas for a while, perhaps even join the Peace Corps. "He had lots of ambition," his mother said. 

But Gavin's career ambition didn't center on getting material things, his mother said. He was interested in environmental studies.

Terri Brohard, a neighbor of the Miller family, said many men in Walnut Creek, including Matt's former Scout leaders, are broken up by news of his death. 

She agreed that neither boy was in the "popular crowd," but in the "responsible" crowd, the crowd admired by staff, teachers and administrators. "Matt was the kind of kid you could talk to like an adult."

"He had an adult sensibility and an adult poise and candor," said Brohard,  who has two sons, 15 and 18. She and her family knew the Millers through the Indian Valley Swim Club. "He was a beautiful swimmer."

Their decision to go rafting in Walnut Creek on a rainy afternoon was a "blip" in lives that otherwise were sensible and responsible, Brohard said. 

Bob Miller said he knew something was wrong when he went to Gavin's house at 11 p.m. Saturday and neither boy was there. He and his wife tried calling and texting him. His failure to respond, so unlike Matt, prompted them to call police, who responded immediately and learned about the rafting trip.

Bob Miller expressed gratitude at the quick response of police and of the community, even as he mourns the loss of his son.

"I was so proud of him," he said.

A  candlelight walk organized by students will take place Wednesday evening in the Shell Ridge Open Space, where Matt and Gavin liked to hike.

 A memorial service for Matthew Miller will be at 2 p.m. Sunday at Congregation B'nai Tikvah, 25 Hillcroft Way, Walnut Creek.

Services for Gavin Powell are pending. 

Jonathan Hawthorne contributed to this report. 

Sadie Berkhimer February 21, 2011 at 10:19 PM
Thank you Martha for this very fitting tribute to these two wonderful young men. The words of those who loved them most are very comforting for all of us who wonder if we will ever be in this same position. Loving thoughts go to the parents and families of Gavin and Matt and thank you so very much for sharing a part of their lives with us.
Jason Cooke February 22, 2011 at 03:24 AM
Very nice Martha. Definitely the best article I've read.
Lori Leigh Gieleghem February 22, 2011 at 04:23 AM
Sensitive and beautiful article about two wonderful boys, both of whom were passionate and lively members of the Free Thinkers Club at Las Lomas, the club I advise at the school where I teach. They both were so smart, funny, and ethical. My heart is breaking for their parents, and for the loss to us all of their radiance. There are two new stars in heaven tonight.
Donna Lynn Rhodes February 22, 2011 at 04:25 AM
Thank you Martha.. This is a tragedy and loss the whole community is feeling. My heart goes out to Gavin and Matt's family.
Max Marriner February 22, 2011 at 04:24 PM
Thank you for writing this, Martha. Thank you so much.
Martha Ross February 22, 2011 at 05:50 PM
Hi Max, Thank you very much for this comment. I really wanted to do a story that would pay tribute to Matt and Gavin. I'm sorry that you and the rest of Las Lomas--and Walnut Creek--have lost them.
dino February 22, 2011 at 09:54 PM
my daughter, Lauren, as well as our family loved Gavin. I didnt know matt very well, wish i had the opportunity of knowing Matt a little better. Our family sends the Miller and Powell family our best prayers. a epic loss. Gavin was one of the sweetest kids i know. as for the eccentric, gavin just looked at life in a beautiful fulfilling way. that and the mango and cold soup.... rip gavin and matt. i know you both are playing the piano, singing at the top of your lungs and eating mangos....
Teresa Williams February 24, 2011 at 09:56 PM
My daughter Katie knew both boys; she and Matt spent a lot of time together with their group of friends freshman year, we had Matt over many Fridays for movies and hanging out and for Katie's annual up all night birthday party. Katie and her circle of friends loved Matt, my husband and I were very impressed with him, he was sweet, funny, very polite. Katie and Gavin were in 2nd period art this year, they shared a table. They placed flowers on the chair in honor of him on Tuesday. He was a very talented artist, Katie talked about how amazing he was all the time. Although I didnt know them well, the stories on here, on Facebook, on the Gavin and Matt webpage, at CCTimes, etc. reveal a legacy of love, close family relationships, devoted friendships with a wide circle of friends, lifelong adventurers, intelligence, and amazing talent for everyone to remember them by. My heart and prayers go to the family, I wish there were words that expressed the depth of sorrow everyone feels, words that would somehow bring comfort to Matt and Gavin's family. I hope that the stories shared will provide a little bit of comfort for everyone. With sympathy, The Williams Family
james Corbet Powell February 19, 2012 at 12:53 AM
I have not only lost a magnificent son but an entire family to share his memories with. -James Corbet Powell 925 330-0477.
Person April 23, 2012 at 04:05 PM
The entire family came to our aid immediately after the tragedy. You referred to them as parasites, child molesters, narcissists etc. It's not surprising you feel abandoned. Look in the mirror once in a while.
Person April 23, 2012 at 04:08 PM
The entire family came to our aid immediately after the tragedy. Within weeks you were referring to them as parasites, narcissists, toasters, child molesters ad infinitum. Not surprizing you feel abandonded. Look in the mirror.
JAMES CORBET POWELL January 10, 2013 at 07:18 AM
its hard to look in the mirror when my wife akmost took my eye out after cracking my skull open in the middle of the night an leac\ving me for dead in a pool of blood 03/22/2011 @ 2am. funny how it took months to get the Co Co County DA let alone the Victims Advocate to even answer my dozens of calls unable to get around because of my disabled physical condition i struggled for months to feed myself alone without the comfort aof Any family who could only file restraining orders against someone persistantly calling them for help & assistence. i even had someone tell me that persistance is "evil"? wtf? i never got that memo. im just trying to survive enduring a ruthless family court system instituted by my wife's holyer-than-thou family who absconded with vast sums from the memorial Fund set up fo the Powell's after the death of Gavin and me without any legal defense representation as all the free/probono services are overwhelmed thes days. i guess i'll have to keep trudging forward alone with my dying aphasiatic disabled mother because nobody gives a freaking hoot about a MALEVICTIM of 17 years of Domestic Violence! AND THIS IS JUST THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG! Pull My Finger ... it gets better! BOO YA!!!! -Noodles!
julie powell April 18, 2013 at 09:42 PM
So now it’s 17 years of domestic violence—LOL. Public record shows the following: Mem Fund was shared in the divorce; your threatening, harassing emails, fb crap lead to an R.O. against you; “superficial flesh wound” vs left for dead; trail of physical abuses on your son w/in 3 weeks of his death w/witnesses to back it up; your sneaky tape with your wife offering you ½ the Mem Fund b4 the divorce even began; your wife didn’t have a lawyer at the divorce trial either fool; eviction paper demo your illegal greed and harassment of tenants. What the public record doesn’t show is your deliberate attempt to extort everything via moving a homeless chain-smoking creep into your late son’s room within two weeks and after your wife BEGGED you not to, then LOCKING AWAY all your son’s effects, photos, even ashes which you wouldn’t even turn over after court order. Go lick your wounds and crawl back from where to came from “the majestic coastal redwoods of Northern California!!” gag. Stop playing the victim. I didn’t beat your for 17 years. I lost my mind after your controlling, abusive behaviors and the death of my only son. How’s your live son these days narcissist?
julie powell April 18, 2013 at 09:56 PM
Oh, and your skull wasn't cracked and your eye suffered nothing. It's in the public record. I'm sorry I broke down after losing my son and having to deal with an abusive stroke victim who was and remains 100% ungrateful for everything I did for him including saving your life by taking you to emergency after you convinced your empoyees to drop you off at home during your stroke. You're welcome. Look, if you want to keep playing your lying, self-pitying broken record try to keep it on facebook for your military peeps who have never even met you.
julie powell April 18, 2013 at 10:43 PM
The way I see it, you always want to have it both ways. You want sympathy from the same people you are threatening, harassing, demeaning, controlling, using and abusing. Good luck with that. You'll probably be appealing the divorce for the rest of your life. I am no longer afraid of you.
julie powell April 19, 2013 at 04:30 PM
One last thing...you weren't calling family for "help and assistance" you were calling them with threats to ruin their career and that's why the Genentech lawyers advised someone to get an R.O. on you. You were also trained to feed yourself and did it frequently even while filing a false report with APS, something that is a crime and constitutes using an authority to ABUSE someone. You think 3-22-11 happened in a vacuum? CATALYST doesn't believe that for a second. Go away. It's ancient history.

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