The body of a chef who cooked for Barack and Michelle Obama from the White House through the post-presidency was pulled from a pond on Martha’s Vineyard on Monday after he went missing while paddleboarding the previous evening, officials said.
Tafari Campbell, 45, of Dumfries, Va., fell in Edgartown Great Pond on Sunday evening. Searchers using sonar from a boat found his body approximately 100 feet from shore in about 8 feet of water, according to David Procopio, a State Police spokesperson.
In a statement Monday evening, Barack and Michelle Obama said Campbell was “a beloved part of our family.”
“When we first met him, he was a talented sous chef at the White House — creative and passionate about food, and its ability to bring people together,” the former president and first lady said. “In the years that followed, we got to know him as a warm, fun, extraordinarily kind person who made all of our lives a little brighter.
“That’s why, when we were getting ready to leave the White House, we asked Tafari to stay with us, and he generously agreed,” the statement continued. “He’s been part of our lives ever since, and our hearts are broken that he’s gone.”
Campbell is survived by his wife, Sherise, and their twin sons, Xavier and Savin, according to the statement.
Around 7:45 p.m. Sunday, emergency responders went to the address of an sprawling estate reportedly purchased by the Obamas in 2019 to investigate a report of a possible drowning, according to dispatch recordings posted on Broadcastify.com.
It was unclear whether the 911 call came from the address. State Police said the former president and first lady “were not present at the residence at the time of the accident.” Obama’s office said the couple were elsewhere on the island Sunday night.
First responders said they were searching for a man who was dressed all in black and was not wearing a life preserver, according to the recordings.
The paddleboarder “appeared to briefly struggle to stay on the surface, and then submerged and did not resurface,” according to State Police. Another paddleboarder saw him go under the water, officials said.
After several hours, the search was suspended Sunday night and then resumed Monday morning.
State Police, Edgartown police, and Cape and Islands District Attorney Robert Galibois’ office are investigating.
The former president and first lady’s property overlooks Edgartown Great Pond on the south side of the island. In 2019, the Vineyard Gazette reported that the Obamas, through a trust, purchased the property from Boston Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck for $11.75 million.
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