It was a day “full of emotions,” described family member Jessenia Vega, on the one-year anniversary when 14-year-old Elias “Eli” Rodriguez went missing and was later found drowned miles away in the LA River in Los Feliz.
It was a year ago that life was forever changed for their family. It was on a freezing cold day when a huge storm broke out and “Eli” didn’t return home from school. The rain made it hard to search, but family members contacted his friends and began to look for him and called for help. The community responded, some knocking on doors and posting flyers as media outlets reported on their search.
When the sun broke through the storm days later, tragically a family member found “Eli’s” body on a small concrete island in the river.
It’s speculated that “Eli” was swept away after trying to take a shortcut through the Pacoima Wash, behind his school, to get to his grandparents’ house that was just on the other side. He was unaware that even a small amount of water could quickly carry you away to the bottom of the wash, with slick concrete making it impossible to get footing and the force of the water is deadly.
After the coroner’s office confirmed that the body found was the teen’s, thousands of people — many who had helped to look for “Eli” — held a massive candlelight vigil to honor him.
A Silent Walk
Last Saturday, Feb.17, it was a small group of Eli’s family who silently walked, retracing his last steps at the same hour he left from his school — Cesar Chavez Academy in the City of San Fernando — to the “bridge” on Glenoaks Boulevard that overlooks the Pacoima Wash, the spot so close to the school where it’s believed that the teenager was swept away by fast-moving, treacherous water in the Pacoima Wash.
His family wrote his name on a small white cross and attached a rosary to it then attached both onto the fencing, and threw flowers into the wash. Even though rain has been scarce this year, water could still be seen below. Afterward, they traveled to the spot where Eli’s body was found and planted a small tree.
“Remembering you today, when the nightmare started for all of us last year. The pain is still there like if it was yesterday. I still can’t comprehend why and may never will,” Vega, the boy’s aunt, wrote on her Facebook page.
“We miss you so much Mijo. I pray for strength to all, as this week FB will be reminding us of our memories, the desperation of each day that passed and not knowing where you were.”
It’s still too difficult for Pahola Mascorro, Eli’s mother, to talk about it. She is private by nature and, in addition to dealing with her deep grief, she continues with ongoing treatment to fight cancer.
She, however, has expressed concern along with other members of their family that too little has been done since her son died.
Soon after “Eli” died, the holes in the fencing were quickly repaired and there was much talk about having more safety measures, including additional security, video surveillance and prominent signage placed at the Pacoima Wash. There was talk of placing a memorial plaque for “Eli” on the bridge on Glenoaks that could be a daily reminder for the students who walk through there every day.
“It seems nothing has been done,” said Vega, who said that the family hasn’t heard much over the last year from officials who were “looking into the matter.”
After the Los Angeles Fire Department swift water rescue team provided a presentation last year and underlined the dangers at the wash, Mayor Sylvia Ballin indicated that she would be rethinking about the plans to turn the Pacoima Wash into a recreational area that included a bike path.
“Last I heard, Mayor Ballin and her team were going to revisit the plans after the swift water [team’s] presentation — it changed their opinions. This topic hasn’t been talked about to me in a long time,” Mascorro said via a text message to the San Fernando Valley Sun.
Mascorro was told that plans to turn the wash into a recreation area could begin in 2019 but then was told it could begin in 2018.
During the LAFD presentation, fire officials warned that what is romantically called the LA River or a wash area, is really a dangerous flood control, and was against plans to make it a recreational area.
The City of San Fernando produced a video of Mascorro warning others about the wash, but she said she has yet to see it. Julie Fernandez, Excutive Assistant to the City Manager, said the city has not yet put it on their social media page as she was still working on accompanying text. It has been sent to the local school district and to the Los Angeles Fire Department to help them update their search and water rescue video.
However, it’s unclear whether the video has yet to be used and area schools were not aware of it.
Wash Area Safety Training
Dana Neill principal of the ACE Academy at Cesar Chavez School where “Eli” attended, said it’s still very hard for her to talk about what happened.
“I lost a child,” she said.
Neill said, however, the school district has held training on wash safety for school administrators who in turn take that information back to their schools and share it with teachers and students.
“The district puts out alerts when water is going to be released through the wash and we warn our students.” said Neill.
“We provide handouts and promote water and wash safety at our student orientation and talk to both parents and students at our meetings.”
Neill said the perimeter of the school is patrolled, but was not aware of additional security specifically at the site of the Pacoima wash.
Vega said that while she wants to see more safety measures in place and receive more information and communication about what has been done and what will be done in the future, she also wants to focus on the good that came out of this tragedy.
“The community that was touched by Eli’s angelic face led them to put their differences and agendas aside to come together to help our family.”
Vega has continued to use the Our Angel, Elias “Eli” Rodriguez Facebook page to post news of other missing children.
“Any time it rains, it comes back — any time a child goes missing, it comes back,” said Vega, “but the faith in humanity that grew from this, I hope will go on.”