FREMONT - Laicey Everett came home Monday after making funeral arrangements for her two young sons and their friend who died Sunday. She found two strangers on her doorstep.
They were Marcos and Magdelena Lopez, the last two people to see the boys alive.
Mr. Lopez had ventured onto the icy Sandusky River with a rope to try to save the children, while Mrs. Lopez yelled for her daughter to call 911. Both watched the boys go under.
"I swear to God, we did all we could," Mr. Lopez told the grieving mother at her door as he tearfully recounted the scene on the partially frozen river. "I did everything I could in my power to get them. They're little angels now."
"Thank you so much," Ms. Everett said, sobbing.
JETTA FRASER Enlarge
Mr. Lopez said he heard D'Andre Everett, 11, yelling for help about 1:30 p.m.
"He was just turning around, kind of in shock," Mr. Lopez said. "Then I saw their little heads coming out of the water."
Jay'Den Taylor-Everett, 7, Da'Vontae Everett, 8, and D'Andre's best friend, Rafael Villanueva, 10, apparently drowned.
Rescuers said the water was more than 10 feet deep and the ice was less than 2 inches thick as temperatures hit the mid-40s over the weekend.
Mr. Lopez said he felt the ice breaking under his weight when he tried to toss a rope to the boys.
"I couldn't get to them. I tried to get to them. I wasn't fast enough," Mr. Lopez told The Blade, wiping away tears as he stood at the river's edge yesterday. "I was helpless. I'm not a good swimmer."
Ms. Everett was working Sunday and her 17-year-old sister, Destiny Everett, was baby-sitting, making lunch for her nephews about
1:15 p.m. as the boys jumped on a trampoline in the backyard.
The boys were "acting sort of suspicious" when they came in to get D'Andre's coat, Destiny said.
Minutes later, D'Andre was back inside. He was hysterical.
"He came in screaming that they were drowning," Destiny said. "I thought they were still in the yard."
The Everett boys generally stayed away from the river, which is about three blocks from their home in the Shorewood Village subdivision. They knew it was off limits.
"We never play by the water. We just throw rocks at it," D'Andre said. "We found a dead skunk there once. We flipped it over."
The boys had been looking for dead fish on the surface of the Sandusky River when the ice cracked under Rafael's feet.
The two younger Everett boys were trying to help him when they too went under.
Ms. Everett said she got a call from Destiny and raced home to find Harbor Hill Road blocked.
"I just kept praying to God, 'Let my kids be OK,'•" Ms. Everett said. "I thought my kids would be OK."
The boys were underwater for about an hour, rescuers said.
Rafael and Da'Vontae were pronounced dead at Physician's Choice Hospital of Fremont. Jay'Den was flown to Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center, where he also died.
The site is now marked with stuffed animals, candles, and a homemade wooden cross covered with handwritten messages from the neighborhood children including "Jesus luvs you from Chris," and "RIP."
Combined funeral services will be held for the boys Saturday, Rafael's mother, Veronica Guzman, said, "because it's not right to separate them."
"They were friends in life and they passed away and are going to be all together," Ms. Guzman said yesterday as 8-year-old Jackie, on her lap, hiccupped between tears. Jackie is one of Rafael's four siblings and six step-siblings.
Rafael's mother said she is dealing with her grief by praying and "just holding the rest of my kids."
The boys had been friends since D'Andre and Rafael were 6 years old. They were classmates at Atkinson Elementary and residents of Delaware Acres apartments until D'Andre's family moved to their Springwood Drive home last year.
"Rafael, he's my best friend," D'Andre said.
"I do everything with him. He sleeps next to my bed. We drink out of the same cup."
Educators at both Atkinson Elementary, where Rafael was a student, and Stamm Elementary, which Da'Vontae and Jay'Den attended, explained the tragedy to the boys' classmates, Fremont Schools Superintendent Traci McCaudy said in a letter to parents. Counselors will be available at both schools for grieving students, she said.
"Today is a sad day for the city of Fremont and for the Fremont city schools. On behalf of the board of education, our employees, our students, and our parents I have extended to the children's families our heartfelt sympathy," Ms. McCaudy wrote.
Both mothers said they thought of all the boys as their own. They don't blame anyone for the accident.
"Boys are boys, you know. They get curious," Ms. Guzman said.
Ms. Everett said she will push for a fence to be built by the water.
Members of the extended families filled both of the homes of the grieving relatives yesterday.
The Everett boys' grandmother, Pat Snyder of Fremont, said she's worried about how Ms. Everett and D'Andre will cope in a quieter home.
"She doesn't know how she's going to survive without them," Ms. Snyder said.
As Ms. Everett sat at the kitchen table yesterday, silently looking at portraits of her sons in their matching plaid shorts and flip-flops, D'Andre said he blames himself for the loss of his brothers and best friend. It was his idea to go out on the ice, he said.
He wants to talk to a pastor at church and his favorite teacher at Stamm Elementary about his feelings.
"I wonder what my future is going to be like," D'Andre said.
Contact Bridget Tharp at: