- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 17, 2002

LAWRENCE, Mass. (AP) One of three boys who survived an icy plunge into the Merrimack River as four friends drowned said yesterday he prayed God would rescue him.

Ten-year-old Jaycob Morales also described the horrifying moment when 11-year-old friend William Rodriguez slipped away from him in the ice-covered river.

"I was scared and cold, but I was hoping that God would get me out of this mess," he said on NBC's "Today" show.

Besides William, the others who died Saturday were Christopher Casado, 7; Victor Baez, 9; and Mackendy Constant, 8.

Jaycob said William went out onto the ice as the boys were returning from the Lawrence Boys and Girls Club. Jaycob said Ivan Casado, Christopher's 9-year-old brother, warned William against going out too far because the ice was thin, only 1 to 2 inches thick.

Jaycob said he saw William fall through the ice.

"I went to go help him out and I fell in," he said.

"William I was helping him and then when I went to go help little Victor. Ivan started screaming William's name, and William just drowned," he told NBC.

Jaycob said Mackendy took off his coat and tried to pass it to the boys to pull them out. "Then when they tried to pull us out, everybody fell into the water," he said.

Ivan, closest to shore in waist-deep water, scrambled up the bank and went for help. He found a neighbor, Jacques Fournier, 63, who called emergency personnel and then tried rescuing them with a rope that proved to be too short.

"My legs started to get stiff and I had a freezing headache," another survivor, Francis Spraus, 9, told the Eagle-Tribune of Lawrence. "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."

Francis sobbed when asked on the "Today" show about the terrifying moments when his friends fell through the ice. "I thank God that God gave me another life," he said through tears.

The boys who died were trapped under the ice for at least 10 minutes, and were unconscious when they were recovered, police Chief John J. Romero said. They were about 25 feet from shore in water up to 8 feet deep, he said.

At a news conference yesterday, Mayor Michael Sullivan announced a memorial fund to help the victims' families. He said city flags would fly at half-staff.

Counselors were sent to schools, and school Superintendent Wilfredo Laboy said "adults and children are having just a very, very bad time." Officials said they would redouble efforts to educate children about the dangers of venturing onto ice.

On Sunday, mourners placed candles bearing the children's names, religious tokens, flowers and toys on the muddy berm overlooking the river.

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