EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 15, 2007

Memories still linger for drowning survivor

Yadira Betances

LAWRENCE | Jaycob Morales survived the raging waters of the Merrimack River on a cold December day five years ago, but the nightmare still lingers for him.

His mother, Ysabel, said the 16-year-old has severe bouts of anger and extreme feelings of guilt as he remembers seeing six of his friends fall through thin ice into the river. Of the seven boys who fell in, only he and two others would escape.

Jaycob has a hard time talking about the incident with family members and friends. He also did not want to talk to The Eagle-Tribune about it directly. His mother spoke for him.

"I feel he was born again that day," Ysabel said of her son's survival.

At his graduation from Bellesini Academy last spring, Jaycob said. "I did not want to reveal it because I was just getting over it. ... Talking about it made me sad. Whenever someone brought it up, I tried to change the subject."

Instead, he wrote a letter to his mother for his graduation that read: "I remember the day that changed my life forever. In the winter of 2002, I had fallen in the Merrimack River. When I came out of the river and into the ambulance, I fell asleep. When I woke up at the hospital, you were right by my side. When I started to cry; you cried with me and when I needed a hug, you opened your arms and hugged me.

After that day in the river, my life changed so much and you wanted the best for me. ... Thank you for all your support, love and help. Jaycob."

Jaycob, who stands 5 feet 9 inches, is now a freshman at Central Catholic High School in Lawrence, where he plays football and basketball.

But the memories are never far from his mind.

His mother said Jaycob visits his friends' grave sites, where he spends time praying for them. Jaycob, who was very close to victim Christopher Casado, left rosary beads on top of his headstone.

Jaycob also visited Thelma Gomez after she had surgery. Gomez's son Victor Baez was another one of the four boys who drowned.

"She hugged him so hard, he panicked," Ysabel Morales said. "She wanted to know what her son's last words were."

Ysabel Morales said her son went home that day wondering why he survived and his friends did not.

"I told him over and over, it wasn't your time yet," Ysabel said.

Dealing with the near-death accident has also been tough for Ysabel Morales.

"Every time there is a rainy, snowy and dark day, I get nervous because it reminds me of that frightful day," said Ysabel, an accountant for 10 years.

The accident on the river was not Jaycob's first brush with death. He was born with a bad bladder and had 20 operations before his first birthday.