The body found in the L.A. River over the weekend was confirmed Tuesday by officials to be 14-year-old Elias “Eli” Rodriguez of Sylmar, who went missing during a powerful rainstorm on Feb. 17.
Jessenia Vega, who is Rodriguez’s aunt, said Tuesday at a news conference she was thankful for the community support the family received.
“Through our great pain, we are very grateful,” Vega said as she stood on Glenoaks Boulevard in San Fernando near where the teen was believed to have been swept away by a rushing water.
“So much love and support has been expressed to us that is the good that came out of this. We still have many unanswered questions and we know that we may not fully get the answers. We may not know what actually happened after Eli left school that day.”
Vega added that a candlelight vigil would be held Friday night starting at César Chávez Learning Academies in San Fernando, where Rodriguez began his path home before he died.
Rodriguez’s body was recovered from the river at 1:35 p.m. Saturday.
The cause of death was drowning and ruled an accident, Craig Harvey of the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner said Tuesday morning.
During the heavy rains on Feb. 17, Rodriguez went missing after leaving César Chávez Learning Academies.
Lt. Darryl Grayson of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Mission Division said on Tuesday that Rodriguez accidentally drowned after he slipped or fell into the wash but what specifically happened to him is “all speculation.”
Rodriguez was found after police searched the canal area from the Foothill area to the 5 and 170 freeways on Saturday, and a volunteer searching ahead of the team spotted the body on an island of the river near the 5 Freeway in the Los Feliz area, said LAPD Capt. Peter Casey of the Mission Division on Saturday.
Since Rodriguez went missing, police confirmed from video footage at the San Fernando school that the teen left a phone message for his mother using someone’s cellphone. A second camera recorded him using the path he walks every day to his grandmother’s home, Casey explained.
“Then there’s no image for Eli, and he’s not heard or seen from since,” Casey said at a news conference. “Talking to his friends that walk with him, it was learned that his normal path coming home from school to his grandma’s residence is where he’d cross the canal to make a shortcut.”
Brian Humphrey of the Los Angeles Fire Department added that Rodriguez was found more than a dozen miles downstream from where he was last seen but he did not have specifics.
Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Michelle King said the district was “deeply saddened” by Rodriguez’s death and extended condolences in a statement issued Tuesday.
“On behalf of the entire L.A. Unified family, I extend our deepest condolences to Elias’ family and friends, and to the César E. Chávez Learning Academies community,” King said. “His death is a loss to all of us. Since Elias’ disappearance last week, the district has provided the school with additional support, including counselors and school police. These resources will remain available at the campus to assist students and staff during this difficult time.”
Vega said Rodriguez was a kind person and she believes his “kind spirit is among us,” which she wants to incorporate into the vigil.
“We want to focus on our love for Eli and express what we can positively continue to accomplish together as a community,” Vega said. “We hope that you will all join us this Friday at 7 p.m.”
Vega additionally asked the media for privacy so the family could grieve. She later added the railing that surrounds the wash near the school was too small.
“I can’t imagine a little 14-year-old boy, if he would have looked over, how easily he could have fallen,” Vega said. “We need to secure this area. A sign will not help. The railing is way too small.”
A GoFundMe account was created Tuesday to help raise money for funeral and other expenses
and had nearly reached its $10,000 goal.
Rodriguez’s aunt Vega said the account was created “by us” but another GoFundMe account was also legitimate.
Kimberly Arenas, 17, a senior at the school who plans to be at the vigil Friday and attended the news conference said while she did not personally know Rodriguez, his death was hard on all of his classmates. “He was 14. So it was the start of his life, about to choose what you want to do with your life and it’s hard for that to be over,” Arenas said.
Rodriguez was not the only person to lose his life during the storm.
Officials on Tuesday identified a 49-year-old Jurupa Valley man who was electrocuted in the same storm.
Robert Wagner was pronounced dead at 1:24 p.m. on Feb. 17 at Sherman Oaks Hospital, Harvey said.
The cause of death for the Riverside County-based man was accidental electrocution, according to the coroner’s office. The electrocution occurred at 5300 N. Sepulveda Boulevard in Sherman Oaks.
As heavy rain and wind pummeled the San Fernando Valley, a tree branch fell, taking out power lines before it landed on a vehicle.
Wagner was apparently touched by an electrified line or somehow had contact with the charged water, police said.
Brenda Gazzar and City News Service contributed to this report.
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