A single bouquet of flowers sits outside Strack Memorial Pond in Forest Park, just up the hill from where 11-year-old Anthony Perez lost his life Tuesday afternoon. The Queens boy died after falling through the ice, reportedly while trying to rescue a friend who had fallen in before him.
"We were all really sad and we really didn't know what to say," Peter Tantillo, a classmate of Perez, said about how his class reacted when it heard about Perez's death.
At P.S. 113 where Perez attended school, students were sent home with letters Wednesday informing parents about the death and that grief counselors would be available.
Friends said their classmate was funny, smart, and looked out for others. Robert Rada said Perez was there when he would get picked on: "Whenever I would get bullied, he would talk to me about it, support me," Rada said. "When I heard he was saving another friend's life, I was like, 'He died a hero's death.'"
Officials said Perez and a 12-year-old had ventured onto the thin ice despite signs warning of the danger. Perez had walked about 50 feet before the ice gave way and he fell through. The other boy who plunged into the water was able to get out and run for help.
Officials said emergency crews managed to respond to the pond within four minutes of the first 911 call, but, for Perez, it was too late. Perez was pronounced dead at Jamaica Hospital, police announced later Tuesday evening. Two first responders who dove into the water, attempting to rescue the boy, suffered hypothermia.
On Wednesday, officials once again reminded parents about the dangers of icy water, warning, that if you do see someone fall in, call 911 first before going in alone.
"Most often, a civilian will try to affect a rescue and we're going to end up rescuing you also," Cpt. Steve Forlenza of the FDNY Scuba Unit said at a news conference.
Meantime, friends have started a GoFundMe page to help Perez's family with burial expenses.
As for the boy who survived the ordeal, fellow students said he was not in class Wednesday.
"We heard that he's in shock or something at home, but if he comes back we are all going to try to support him and tell him it's not his fault, it was natural," said Rada.