The family of Elias “Eli” Rodriguez gathered on Tuesday, Feb. 28, at the spot near his school where it’s believed that the 14-year-old teen was swept away by fast moving water in the Pacoima Wash.
Somberly, they looked through the wire fence at the water in the wash below. While it was now well over a week since the huge storm hit the day when “Eli” went missing, the water was still moving swiftly.
Earlier that day family members received the worst news. The coroner’s office confirmed that that the body found in the L.A. River miles away in Los Feliz was “their precious Eli.” According to the coroner’s office, Elias drowned and his death was ruled accidental.
Struggling to hold back tears, Jessenia Vega, the teen’s aunt, acknowledged the many people who have been the bright light through the family’s agonizing ordeal.
She expressed gratitude to the residents in her local community, the people who after hearing about “Eli” in the news, who “drove in from areas a great distance away to help law enforcement, the FBI, and the local businesses who made food donations during their community search.”
“We all organized together to look for Eli. It’s a painful time for our family, his friends, his school and this community, who quickly invested themselves in this ordeal. We know so many people tried to help. Through our great pain, we are very thankful,” Vega said
Vega also acknowledged her concern with what appears to be the lack of safety measures along the wash. She isn’t the first to point out the danger of cars speeding by just inches from a very narrow sidewalk over the wash, and the very low guardrail on Glenoaks Boulevard.
“Looking down at the wash, we need these areas to be secure. It’s easy for anybody to fall down — easily,” Vega said. “And with the strength of the wash passing by it can easily push you…or you could fall in.”
She said the short guardrail on the area of sidewalk that is known as “the bridge” only measures to her waistline.
“So, I can imagine if a little 14-year-old boy had looked over how easily he could have fallen. We need to secure these areas. [Just having ] a [‘No Trespassing’] sign does not help.”
On Feb. 17, when “Eli” disappeared, the wind was bending trees and the rain was pounding in one of the valley’s worst storms. It’s not known how he wound up in the wash, whether he fell in or may have tried to cross the wash himself to take a shortcut to try to quickly get out of the storm to his grandmother’s house on Griswold Avenue.
“There are still many more questions than answers,” Vega said. “We may not know what actually happened the day Eli left school that day.”
Vega said that seeing so many people in the community come together was a reflection of her nephew. “Eli is a kind person. And I say ‘is’ because I do believe his kind spirit is still among us. We want to focus on our love for Eli, and express what we can positively continue to accomplish together as a community.”
The family will be holding a candlelight vigil for Eli on Friday, March 3 at 7 p.m., and plan to light the path from the César Chavez Learning Academies to the location on Glenoaks Boulevard, above the Pacoima Wash, where a public memorial has been set up.
“During this time, when there is so much political strife in our country, we know that there is so much good in people and we want to continue that kind, caring spirit of love,” Vega said.
Many have expressed concern for the immense grief felt by Elias’ mother Pahola Mascorro, who has been fighting brain and lung cancer.
“She has said that she would take all the cancer in the world, if she could have her son back,” Vega said. “She has also said if the cancer didn’t kill her, it will now. I hope it doesn’t because we need her too.”
The family has established a GoFundMe page to raise money for funeral and other expenses. The website — www.gofundme.com/in-honor-of-our-angel-elias-eli – has a goal to raise $25,000.