Days after Walter Jose Gomez, 18, was found in an apparent , family and friends are trying desperately to raise enough money to send his body home to Guatemala for burial.
A cannister at the Empire Gas Station on Route 25 in Southold is stuffed with dollar bills, as a community comes forward to help a family in need.
Southold resident Alex Tacovic, who said he knew the Gomez family, organized the collection -- another can is set up in Laurel -- to help.
This is the second time in recent months residents have stepped up to help a family send a body home after tragedy; in April, the family of a collected funds in cans to help send her to her final resting place.
According to Tacovic, who knew Arnaldo Gomez, Walter’s father, and Alex, 21, his brother, the tragedy has devastated a family.
“It’s really heartwrenching,” Tacovic said.
Gomez, Tacovic said, was working at a landscaping job with his father and brother on July 11, a very hot day. Tacovic said Gomez told him Walter said he wanted to go in the pool, but his father refused.
“They were taking a break and when they finished and got in the truck, they realized Walter was missing,” Tacovic said.
Gomez was found floating in a swimming pool at 3:38 p.m. according to reported. Police and rescue workers responded to the scene, where Walter was removed from the pool and CPR was performed. Walter was transported to Eastern Long Island Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, police said.
Tacovic said the family needs approximately $3800 to get Walter Gomez’ body home.
Walter, Tacovic said, was “very sweet, with a very warm smile -- he was always smiling.”
Tacovic last saw the teen the night before he died, buying something at the store.
“He was happy go lucky, always talking to people,” Tacovic said.
The boys and their father lived together in a basement apartment in Southold, Tacovic said.
Walter, he added, came to join his father and brother in the United States when he was only 14.
“He missed his mom,” Tacovic said. “It’s tragic that his mother will see him coming back in a coffin.”
Both Gomez boys were “good kids, and very respectful,” Tacovic said, working and doing laundry. “They weren’t like the typical teenagers, running around. They were with their dad every day.”
Walter, Tacovic said, was 18, “but he seemed younger -- he was sweet, innocent.”
When his brother called his mother to break the news about Walter’s, Tacovic said, “She didn’t believe him.”
The death, Tacovic said, was “unfair. He was just trying to work hard and send money home for his mother.”
Since his son’s death, Tacovic said Gomez has been inconsolable. “He can’t sleep. He was outside today, sitting in a broken chair. A broken man, in a broken chair.”
The drowning, Tacovic said, is not just another news story. “This is somebody’s son.”
Southold Town police are still investigating the incident.
Another tragic drowning shocked the Cutchogue community in 2006 when a young girl drowned at the Santorini Motel. There was no lifeguard working at the time.