EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack River tragedy: Five years later

December 12, 2007

Drowning survivor, Francis Spraus, turns his young life around

LAWRENCE | Looking back is tough. Francis Spraus prefers to look forward.

The 14-year-old Lawrence High School freshman wants to go to college, wants to continue playing basketball. And for a career he said he would like to be a firefighter.

"They save lives and put themselves at risk for others," he said.

Five years ago, firefighters were the ones who pulled him and six friends from the Merrimack River after the thin ice fell out from underneath them.

Four of his friends died that day. Francis and two others survived, including his best friend, Ivan Casado, who ran for help. Ivan’s brother, Christopher, lost hold of Francis and slipped below the surface | the youngest to die.

Francis has worked hard to get past that day. When he graduated from the Gerald A. Guilmette School last year, he wrote an essay, saying he was happy people don't just think of him as one of the kids from the river, that there is more to him that.

His smile fades when he is asked about his friends who died, though. His voice becomes softer and he loses the confidence he has when talking about basketball. His gaze falls.

"I still think about it. I see pictures, they randomly pass in my head," he said. "It’s hard to forget, so I try to ignore it. I can’t really change what happened."

'Every day is a new day'

The river is a few blocks from Francis’ house on School Street, and a short walk from the Boys and Girls Club on Water Street where Francis has been a regular since he was 7 years old.

Basketball is his passion, one he inherited from his older brothers Juan Nunez, 22, and Erasmo Nunez, 21.

Every day, it's school, then basketball practice. In eighth grade, his team through the Boys and Girls Club won the league championship. This year, he is practicing with the high school varsity team.

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