FLAGSTAFF — As the Northern Arizona University community grapples with the loss of Yeon-Su Kim, the school’s forestry program director, the volunteer search effort for her husband Corey Allen is expected to conclude Thursday. Allen co-founded Hidden Light LLC, a photography studio in Flagstaff, and has worked as a real estate agent and photographer.
The couple was lost at sea off the coast of Puerto Peñasco, Mexico while kayaking on Thanksgiving.
The family of Kim and Allen on Thursday announced the end of “the coordinated volunteer portion of the search” on a GoFundMe page that was set up by a family friend, Lisa Aumack, to “support the search and rescue efforts, especially air search needs.”
“We are aware that these searches incur safety risks, and we want everyone to be safe,” the Thursday GoFundMe update said. “Therefore, we understand that ending the coordinated search is the right thing to do, given the likelihood Corey’s body will not be recovered.”
Kim’s body was found Sunday. The couple’s kayaks were located by search crews Wednesday, according to the Civil Protection and Firefighters in Puerto Peñasco (Coordinación de Protección Civil y Bomberos Puerto Peñasco).
Authorities were not immediately available to say whether official search efforts were being suspended.
“We are encouraged with the knowledge that so many will keep their eyes out for Corey in the coming days going about their daily business. And we very much hope he will be found,” the family said in the Thursday GoFundMe update.
“For the time being, our family is focusing on returning Yeon-Su home, grieving, celebrating Yeon-Su’s and Corey’s lives as a family, and helping the children settle into their new reality,” the family wrote. Through Aumack, the families of Kim and Allen requested privacy and declined to speak with The Republic.
The couple went kayaking with their teenage daughter around 1 p.m. on Nov. 24. When strong winds and currents appeared, Corey Allen took their daughter back to shore. He then went back out to help Kim, according to the GoFundMe.
“He acted like a hero, and it certainly doesn’t surprise me that he acted the way he did,” said Jim Allen, interim director of forestry at NAU and a 16-year colleague of Kim. “He was quite a force in his own right.”
Three days after an extensive search began, the local navy (Secretaria de Marina) found Kim’s body near the Mayan Palace hotel, according to local authorities.
“It’s like a gut punch,” Allen said. “It took a while for us to even believe that it was really true that this was happening.”
“The rug has been pulled out from under us pretty suddenly, and people are still really adjusting to that,” he said.
In the days since the couple first went missing, a memorial has popped up outside Kim’s office at NAU with flowers and notes.
“She’s just this person that welcomes everybody, who pays close personal attention to people and she brings people together,” Allen said. Kim was named executive director of NAU’s School of Forestry in July 2021, and she was “really coming into her own as a leader,” he said.
“I don’t think she ever envisioned herself being the director of the School of Forestry, but she really was rising to that occasion,” he said. “And she’d only been in that job for a year and a half, but she was already having an impact both here at NAU and really nationally as well.”
There has been an outpouring of support from forestry professionals across the country, he said.
Kim’s professional focus was ecological economics. She spent much of her time working internationally with local students in places like Indonesia and Thailand, researching and promoting the idea of community forestry. Instead of cutting down a forest, Kim worked to develop ways for communities to come together to manage their forests as a source of income, Allen said.
Kim kept in touch with former students who continue to implement what she taught them, cementing her impact, he said.
“She’s pretty well known internationally for work that has a theme of community forestry or combating deforestation and often looking at the social, economic or policy aspects of that,” Allen said.
Kim was dedicated to making forestry more inclusive. Allen said the department intends to carry on with Kim’s inclusion work, moving forward on a proposal to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help advance the next generation of forestry professionals coming from underrepresented groups.
“Yeon-Su was so driven by this mission of trying to increase the diversity in our profession,” Allen said. “That is really her legacy, in my opinion, professionally.”
Kim set the example for how to carry yourself in professional spaces and foster an inclusive environment around you, said Ryan Fitch. Kim mentored him as an NAU doctoral student more than a dozen years ago, and they maintained a close relationship.
“She was very accomplished and also very humble about her accomplishments,” he said.
Fitch now teaches at NAU’s business school and remembers Kim as a positive and energetic teacher, especially in early morning classes. It’s a mentality he’s carried into his own classroom, he said.
“I just thought it was crazy how someone could come in at eight in the morning and be that ready to go,” he said. “As I’ve progressed I’ve kind of seen that if you don’t do that on your end, then the students aren’t going to follow suit.”
Contact northern Arizona reporter Lacey Latch at email@example.com or on social media @laceylatch. Coverage of northern Arizona on azcentral.com and in The Arizona Republic is funded by the nonprofit Report for America and a grant from the Vitalyst Health Foundation in association with The Arizona Republic.