ANGLETON — Too young to aid in the search for his favorite coach, DeMarcus Randall stayed awake into the early Monday hours keeping a silent vigil for Jonathan “J.R.” Wagner.
“He tried to stay up all night until he heard the news that they found him,” Tanya Randall said of her son, an Angleton Junior High seventh-grader.
DeMarcus awoke to news no one in the community wanted to hear. Coast Guard crews found Wagner’s body at about 2 a.m. Monday in Christmas Bay, not far from where he disappeared while wade fishing the day before.
“My son always came home from school talking about him. That’s the only coach he talked about,” Randall said. “He really had to have taken a lot of time out to have a special bond with him.”
Wagner’s relationship with DeMarcus was hardly an anomaly. The 30-year-old’s death reverberated across the Angleton ISD community — particularly in the halls of the junior high, where he returned to teach P.E. and coach football after graduating from Angleton High School in 2004.
“It’s a tough, tough day for us,” Angleton ISD Superintendent Pat Montgomery said. “He was one of my kids for a long, long time.”
Thoughts of Wagner’s mischievous nature and killer smile carried Montgomery through the school day as she remembered a former student who felt right at home among an often turbulent age group.
“That smile probably helped him out so many times,” Montgomery said with a laugh. “He was one of those people who made you feel good just being around him.
“He had recently made the comment that he loved teaching at the junior high level. It takes somebody special who loves junior high kids, but he found his niche there. He loved being with those kids.”
Wagner’s vibrant personality and fierce Wildcat pride made him a student favorite, Angleton High School Varsity Football Coach Ryan Roark said, and that pride was never more apparent than the moment Wagner learned wife Katy was expecting the couple’s first child.
“He was so fired up, he texted me a note saying, ‘Hey, here’s the next future Wildcat coming,’” Roark said. “He was genuinely giddy and excited about getting ready to be a father.
“He was the type of person that the kids gravitated towards — he was just fun to be around. The kids liked him, the parents liked him, the community liked him.”
Wagner left his home about 4 a.m. Sunday for a solo wade-fishing trip, Brazoria County Sheriff’s Lt. Varon Snelgrove said. He told his father he would be home within the hour at about 11 a.m. — the last contact anyone had with him, U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer 1st Class Andrew Kendrick said.
His father called police when Wagner had not returned by 7 p.m., Kendrick said.
Authorities found Wagner’s vehicle parked on Bluewater Highway near the spot where he had been fishing, Kendrick said. Crews from the U.S. Coast Guard, the Gulf Coast Rescue Squad and Texas Parks and Wildlife searched for the man by air and boat for several hours before locating his body.
Searchers spotted Wagner’s fishing equipment about 600 yards from the shore west of Key Largo By the Bay subdivision in Surfside, Gulf Coast Rescue Squad spokesman John Blankenship said.
Judge Sherry Kersh pronounced Wagner dead at the scene, Snelgrove said. His body was taken to the Galveston County medical examiner’s office for an autopsy.
Authorities believe Wagner’s death was accidental, Snelgrove said.
“We don’t suspect any foul play,” Snelgrove said. “It looks like an accident.”
Savannah Fink, Wagner’s cousin, thanked the community for the prayers and support on behalf of her family.
“We sure appreciate it,” Fink said.
Wagner’s wife and father did not respond to Facebook messages seeking comment Monday afternoon.
Current and former students spent Monday writing letters to Wagner’s unborn son in the hopes the boy one day will have a sense of the father he’ll never meet, Montgomery said.
“They want to make sure this little boy knows who his father was,” she said. “I would tell him his daddy made a difference. He was loved by so many people.”