Family, friends grieve accidental death of 21-year-old from Palo Alto

Max Lemail of Palo Alto. Photo posted to Facebook by Whitney Q. Lohmeyer.

By the Daily Post staff

A 21-year-old outdoors enthusiast who grew up in Palo Alto has died from what his father believes was a freak accident in a park near San Diego.

Max Lenail was reported missing after he went to a park for a run on Friday, according to news reports in San Diego. San Diego authorities asked for the public’s help in finding him Saturday.

More than 1,000 people joined a sheriff’s search-and-rescue team to scour Mission Trails Regional Park for signs of Lenail before hikers found his body in some water, according to KSWB-TV.

“He knew the wilderness, but he probably slipped and then hit his head and died of a combination of head trauma and hypothermia,” his father, Ben Lenail of Palo Alto, told the news station. “The best way to describe it is a freak accident.”

“He was a very seasoned athlete and outdoorsman, and that was a huge part of his life — rock climbing, bouldering, running,” he said.

The Paly graduate, son of Ben Lenail and Laurie Yoler, was a pre-med student at Brown University and was set to get his degree in May.

“He had an incredibly generous, caring nature and he was going to spend decades healing and helping other human beings,” Ben Lenail said.

On Facebook, Max Lenail was remembered warmly.

“Max was an incredible, generous, kind, loving spirit,” wrote Maryanna Saenko. “I am so grateful for the opportunity to have known and admired him. He was an amazing cook, a brilliant climber, a kind friend and he was also a boy with a dog. A boy who loved that dog very much, and was in turn loved by that dog. Hazel misses you Max. We all do.”

“You will live on through those who loved you, knew you, grew with you and learned from you,” wrote Bailey Ash. “Your light will never stop burning in us.”

“This afternoon, it is hard for me to put my feelings into words,” wrote David Lipsitz, an admin with the San Diego Hiking Society, on Facebook. “As many of you know, today (Saturday) our community tragically lost a fellow hiker and adventurer, Max Lenail at the age of 21. This devastating death in Missions Trails Regional Park, right in many of our backyards, has sent shock waves through our local hiking world. While there will be time in the future to process this loss, I wanted to express a message of love and admiration.”

Lipsitz said more than 1,000 people helped in the search on Saturday.


  1. What a tragic loss. Max was intelligent, a natural athlete and somebody who truly cared about others. I pray for his family and ask that they have strength at a time like this.

  2. Max was also a student at the International School and made many friends there. My heart goes out to his parents and family. RIP

  3. Sweet young man, whom I had the opportunity to meet very very briefly, but who left an indelible impression of fragrance left behind after a rose has been picked up, or the warmth that washed over after a bright ray of sun touches you…Max, I got to meet you only briefly and thought I’d attend your wedding someday. Cannot imagine the loss that your family and close loved ones feel today. Sweet child, wishing you peace and even more bright tidings in your journey forward.

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