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The San Diego Union-Tribune

Prince dies in tsunami, was grad of Torrey Pines


December 30, 2004

Poomi Jensen wore extra tassels on his cap at Torrey Pines High School's graduation ceremony in 2001. With his father by his side, Jensen, who was autistic, couldn't wait for his name to be called so he strode across the stage early.

Jensen, a grandson of the king of Thailand, was killed over the weekend in the devastating tsunami while vacationing at a resort in southern Thailand. He was 21.

His body was recovered and flown to Bangkok for a seven-day Buddhist funeral service.

Jensen grew up in San Diego County with his American father, Thai princess mother and two sisters. While many were aware of his royal background, his high school principal didn't know Jensen was a prince.

Debra Lawler, the school psychologist at Torrey Pines, said Jensen had severe autism and couldn't communicate verbally. She said he loved to build birdhouses in shop class as a way to relax.

"He was really challenged, so everybody got to know him. We sort of all kept an eye on him," said former Torrey Pines principal Marie Grey. "He was normally really happy and had a big smile on his face. He was a sweet young boy."

Poomi Jensen
Jensen's parents met when they were students at Massachussets Institute of Technology and were married in 1972. They settled in Del Mar. His mother, Princess Ubolratana Mahildol, the eldest daughter of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej, was known as Julie Jensen during her marriage.

She filed for divorce in 1998, and her son – known as Khun Poom to Thais – moved to Thailand with his mother some years ago.

After his parents broke up, each sought custody of Jensen. Lawler remembers both parents attending conferences at school.

"I think they both had the best interests of the child (in mind), but they didn't get along," she said.

Lawler, who knew Jensen was a member of the Thai royal family, said the boy split his time between his parents' homes while attending high school. He was raised with the help of caretakers and nannies, and at one point, bodyguards accompanied him to campus, she said.

On graduation day, Lawler watched Jensen's father take him across the stage. She said Jensen wore five or six tassels on his cap because he liked them.

"When his group went out, he just rushed to the front of the line. He went right across," Lawler said. "He just was ready to go. It was a big deal ... It seems like yesterday."

Initial news reports said Jensen was on a personal water craft at a resort when he was lost, but later reports quoted his mother as saying he had returned from the water craft and was fleeing the massive waves with her and his younger sister when he disappeared.

The Bangkok Post reported that during a funeral rite his grief-stricken mother clipped a lock of her son's hair to remember him by.

His father, a resident of Sunset Cliffs, left for Thailand on Monday, thinking he would be helping in the search for his son's body, said Poomi's grandmother, Margaret Jensen.

"At least they found him," she said. "At least we can get some kind of closure to it. But it's a terrible thing. This is Peter's only son. It is devastating."

She said her grandson was a "very loveable child" who was "very bright in electronics" and enjoyed water sports such as swimming and surfing. She said she hadn't seen him in a couple of years, but that he was attending school in Thailand.

In addition to his parents, he is survived by sisters Ploypailin, who lives in London, and Sirikittiya Mai, a student at UC Riverside.

Karen Kucher: (619) 542-4563;

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