EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack River tragedy: Five years later

December 14, 2007

The community reacts


Manny Ayala, director of physical program services, wasn't working the day it happened, but someone called him. When he went to the Emergency Room, he started recognizing the families as he walked in. He said all the kids involved were “everyday kids,” regulars at the club, well-known to all the other students and staff.

"Has it been five years already?” asked Ayala. “It stands out in my mind like it was yesterday."

He said the kids don’t talk about it much, but two of the survivors | Francis Spraus and Ivan Casado | still come to the club.

Associate Director Steve Kelly said the event had a lasting lesson | one of safety, but also of heroism.

"I don't know where the kids would come up with the idea to make a chain to save their friend. It is tragic, but so heroic," he said. "Every time I think of it, I think you don't have to go far to find heroes. Those kids were there for their friends."

Remembrance Mass

Every December, Reyes at St. Mary of the Assumption Church knows to expect a call from Thelma Gomez, a reminder to have a special Mass for the four boys who drowned in the Merrimack River, including her son Victor Baez.

The church serves 2,500 people every Sunday, but the community is close. Almost 90 percent of the church is Spanish-speaking, a wide-reaching group that comes in from other towns. Five years ago, it was the Lawrence community that was the center. The funerals for William Rodriguez, Mackendy Constant and Victor Baez took place at the church.

"Every time I look back, I can see the three caskets lined up in front of the alter," said Reyes.

The event brought people to him and to the church with questions about faith. He said the best side of the church also came out, helping people who have experienced loss, reminding them they are not alone.

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