LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - He went hiking alone to be closer to God so no one expected him to be in danger because of the heat but that's the finding of a preliminary autopsy released by the Randall County Sheriff's Office. It says 24-year-old Nathan Kyle Neel died from a heat stroke while hiking in Palo Duro Canyon. Hikers found the youth minister's body Friday afternoon.
News of Nathan Neel's death shocked his girlfriend Nicolle Meers, friends and co-workers. They all say the 24-year-old youth minister's passion for people and for the Lord touched many lives.
"I couldn't believe it. I really wanted it to be a very bad joke," says Nicolle Meers about the news of her boyfriend's death. She and Neel had plans to be engaged and say the news was simply surreal. "I was Nathan's soul mate while he was here on earth and my heart was truly broken Friday night," adds Meers. But on Saturday morning she woke up and knew things had to be okay. "God graced me with so much strength and to know Nathan is with God... he's with who he wanted to be," says Meers
"His passion for God and passion for people unmatched by anyone I've ever met," says long time friend Jake Cofield. He met his best friend Nathan Neel five years ago during a college worship service and says his friend's death came too soon. "He was just getting started good," says Cofield of his friend's life. "It was his dream to find a woman he loved unconditionally and a dream to be in ministry," adds Cofield.
That dream became a reality for Neel, New Home Baptist Church Pastor Calvin Gray offered Neel a job as youth minister two weeks ago. "We were just shocked, he was just here," says Pastor Gray.
On Wednesday, just two days before his death, during his last lesson with his youth group Neel told his kids about being at peace when it was your time to go. "God literally set everything up for everything, he was already blessing every situation," says Meers.
Both Meers and Cofield say Neel had a great passion for Palo Duro Canyon. "He went out there to spend the day with God and it just so happened he finished his walk face to face with him," says Meers. "Our Pastor said it best, Nathan went to walk and talk with the Lord and he walked home," says Cofield.
A memorial fund has been set up in honor of Nathan Neel at any City Bank location. Funeral arrangements are pending.
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