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Brett Olson. (Bill Husa/Chico Enterprise-Record)

LAFAYETTE -- The word spread even as people were just arriving at Acalanes High School on Tuesday. And for those who didn't catch wind of it, Brett Olson's uncle was there to deliver the news personally.

The vigil to remember Olson, the 20-year-old Lafayette man who died on the Sacramento River after a Labor Day weekend inner-tube float, was not to be a sad occasion.

"We as a family believe that out of every tragedy, besides the sadness is a bright side and learning opportunity," said Olson's uncle, Paul Osborne of Walnut Creek. "The bright side is how much time we had with Brett and learning how much he was loved."

Michael Olson, Brett's father, attended the vigil along with his wife, Elizabeth, and Brett's brothers, Nick and Luke. The couple was in Chico all last week, along with many friends, looking for the young man.

For the most part, the gathering on the back football field at the campus was in keeping with the theme, but the tears flowed easily anyway.

"He loved his friends more than anything, and he loved the events that brought them together," Michael Olson said as he referenced the inner-tube outing and the response when Brett went missing, a search aided by social media that attracted thousands. More than 93,000 people joined a Facebook page commemorating Olson.


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"You all kept the hope alive for us," Michael Olson said. "We could feel the incredible force of love that came from all walks of life and all parts of the world. Ninety-five thousands followers on Facebook. ... That's power."

Olson's longtime friend Shane Wright, one of the vigil's organizers, wore a Hawaiian shirt as a "symbol of positivity we wanted to bring to this occasion, because he brought it to us."

About 1,000 people attended the Tuesday night vigil for Olson, a student at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo and a 2010 graduate of Acalanes. He was on a beach near Hamilton City during a river float that attracts thousands of young inner-tubers each year when he was last seen Sept. 2.

His body was discovered Sunday morning by people fishing about two miles downstream from the beach where he had last been seen. Glenn County Sheriff Larry Jones said the likely cause of death is drowning.

"What we'll remember is the coming together of friends and community, and small gestures of kindness so many people have showed," Osborne said. "All of those things are what Brett was about."

Rick Hurd covers breaking news. Contact him at 925-945-4780 and follow him at Twitter.com/3rdERH.