Mourners stream to river's edge where boys fell through ice

Monday, December 16, 2002

LAWRENCE, Mass. -- With a sudden impulse to slide on the river's ice, 11-year-old William Rodriguez scurried 25 feet from shore and, with his six playmates looking on, plunged through.

Moments later, he and three of the other boys who raced out to save him were trapped beneath the ice of the Merrimack River.

Sunday, a steady stream of mourners placed candles bearing the four boys' names on a muddy berm overlooking where they had played together the day before.

Mackendy Constant, 8, was the first to go after his friend. But in an attempt to throw him a jacket, Constant fell through himself.

The other five, determined to pull their friends from the freezing water, locked arms and ventured out. Soon, they too broke through the soft, one- to two-inch sheet.

Ivan Casado, 9, closest to shore, scrambled up the bank and went for help. He found a neighbor, Jacques Fournier, 63.

"I ran to the river with rope, I tried to throw rope to them. The ice was breaking," Fournier said. "They looked very calm and were saying, 'Sir, hurry up.' I was angry at the rope because I couldn't reach them."

Soon, four of the boys, Rodriguez, Constant, 9-year-old Victor Baez and Christopher Casado, 7, Ivan's brother, would slip below.

"My legs started to get stiff and I had a freezing headache," one of the survivors, Francis Spraus, 9, told the Eagle-Tribune of North Andover. "I was hanging on to Christopher but he started to slip under. I tried holding on to his hand, but it was like he let go."

Two of the boys were rescued by police, firefighters and paramedics who battled floating ice, driving rain and the muddy river bank.

"Everybody pitched in and worked together," said Lawrence Police Chief John J. Romero. "My heart goes out to the children's families."

The other four were trapped under the ice for at least 10 minutes and were unconscious when they were finally pulled out, Romero said. They were later pronounced dead at hospitals.

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