Grieving Family of Cousins Who Died in Bronx River Call for Safety Measures

By Aidan GardinerGustavo Solis and Ben Fractenberg  on June 23, 2014 7:52am  | Updated on June 23, 2014 6:30pm

Slideshow
 The families of 13-year-old cousins Erikson Villa and Wellington Gavin called for a fence to be put along the water at Starlight Park during a press conference their Monday after the boys drowned while swimming in the Bronx River, June 24, 2014. 
Starlight Park Press Conference
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THE BRONX — The family of two 13-year-old cousins who drowned in the Bronx River Friday called on the Parks Department to build a fence to block access to the water or close down the park.

The parents and classmates of Erikson Villa and Wellington Gavin made an emotional visit to the docks at Starlight Park Monday afternoon calling for more safety measures where the cousins drowned after jumping into the river.

"Please put the gate up around the river or close the park," said Erikson's mother, Eva Villa, who broke down on tears when she looked over the water where her son drowned. "Look at me. I'm empty. I'm empty."

Another family member spoke earlier in the day about the lack of safety in the park.  

"The city should've done something before this happened,” said the boys’ aunt Denise Burgos, 44. “It shouldn't take a death for them to change this. This shouldn't have happened."

State Sen. Ruben Diaz also advocated for a fence.

"I cannot imagine the pain and suffering that the families of these 13-year old cousins are facing, and my thoughts and prayers are with them all during this time of grief," Diaz said.

Villa and Gavin planned to swim in the river about 3 p.m. But their summer fun took a tragic turn soon after Villa jumped in, according to Rev. Joel Bauza, the family’s spokesman.

“Erikson went into the water and his cousin Wellington went behind him to go jump in also,” Bauza said earlier in the day. “But he saw that his cousin was panicking and starting to drown. He went in to save his cousin."

The boys, who the reverend said knew how to swim, were unconscious when paramedics pulled them from the water. Both were taken to St. Barnabas Hospital. Villa was pronounced dead Friday evening. Gavin died Sunday afternoon, Bauza said.

Signs at the park warn not to enter the water, but the family said there should be more protection to keep children from playing on the floating docks. 

"We extend our deepest sympathies to the families of the two youths who were tragically lost as a result of Friday’s incident," said Parks Department spokesman Philip Abramson. "Starlight Park includes a floating dock for canoers and kayakers to access the Bronx River.  Swimming is not permitted in these waters and we continue urge all New Yorkers to swim only at designated public beaches and pools where lifeguards are on duty."

The 13-acre park, which was recently renovated, has a synthetic turf field, a picnic area, two playgrounds with spray showers, basketball courts and floating docks, according to the Parks Department website.

Classmates of Erikson and Wellington threw flowers into the water after the press conference. 

Erikson's father, Robinson Villa, walked onto the dock and dropped a red rose over the side.

The families will hold a double funeral at Bridge Community Church on 1010 East 174th St. The time and date has not been decided, Bauza said.

The families also need help from the community to send the cousins back to their home country, he said. 

"They need the help. They want to send both boys, both cousins, to the Dominican Republic and lay them to rest with their families over in their native country," Bauza said during the press conference. 

Checks or money orders can be made out to Robinson Villa and mailed to the church at 1010 East 174th St., Bronx, NY 10460. 

Checks should be made out to Robinson Villa. 

"I'm hurting so much. I wouldn't want any other family to feel this pain," Burgos said.

Trevor Kapp contributed reporting.

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