WILMINGTON – When family and friends of Abigail and Eder Arroyo who gathered Friday to remember the children described them, one word was repeated again and again.
“They were really full of life, still,” said their cousin, Gerson Adame.
Abigail, 13, and Eder, 12, both of Joliet, drowned Memorial Day evening in the Kankakee River near the dam in Wilmington.
Those who loved them came together Friday evening at the site to honor their memory.
Their pastor, Enrique Guzman, of Iglesia de Cristo: Casa de Oracion, recalled through the translation of his daughter, Maria Perez, how Abigail and Eder used to throw open the glass doors of the Joliet church and run in late, racing.
Guzman said he always saw them coming from the pulpit. Even if their mother couldn’t make it to church because of work, the two would call for a ride or walk.
“They were always there,” Perez said.
As those present Friday described Abigail, they told the story of a young girl who was thoughtful and caring.
She wanted to be a nurse, said her older brother, Irwin Lopez, who organized Friday’s gathering. The incoming Gompers Junior High School eighth-grader was already excited for her Quinceañera. She wanted to get a summer job to save up for the 15th birthday party that is also a rite of passage.
“Abigail was all about school, trying to be a better person, church,” said her cousin, Christopher Larios.
Laura Lopez recalled how her daughter, Sarah Lopez, had spoken fondly of Abigail, a friend from the Gompers choir program.
Laura added that Sarah has autism, and as part of the disorder, only talks about people who are special to her.
Abigail entered the waters Monday after Eder fell in. She died trying to save him.
Irwin said his little brother loved video games, dancing – especially the Nae Nae – and sports.
“He schooled me in basketball,” Irwin said of Eder, who was to start seventh-grade at Thompson Instructional Center in the fall and whose body was found Wednesday morning, about 3.5 miles downstream from the dam and more than a day after Abigail had been pulled from the waters.
Two years ago, Larios said, Eder came along to watch Larios play in a club soccer championship game.
When Larios’ team won, Eder was so excited that he ran out onto the field. He wasn’t allowed, but he didn’t care.
Honoring their memory
People gathered Friday at South Island Park, drifting in and out in the late afternoon heat. Some brought coolers and drinks, some sat in folding chairs under the trees.
In many ways it was like any picnic at the park – but quieter.
Most of those in attendance wore white.
A cloud of balloons was released into the sky above the dam, and a small group sang together in Spanish – some crying, some clapping in time, all remembering Abigail and Eder.
On the river’s shore, Irwin; his fiancée, Veronica Montoya; and a few others stood, looking out at the dam.
On the rocks above it and further up the shore, fishermen cast their lines.
“I wanted to show them that we’re here,” Irwin said of his siblings.
Numerous people have drowned at the dam, local officials have said.
Irwin said he would like a plaque to be erected in remembrance of the victims.
Although there are signs near the dam warning of its dangers, Irwin also wants to see preventative measures installed to keep passers-by away.
“I want their death to be the last ones that happen here,” he said.
Visitation is scheduled for Abigail and Eder from 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday and 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. Monday at Delgado Funeral Chapel, 400 Landau Ave., Joliet.
A graveside service will take place 11 to 11:30 a.m. Monday at Mt. Olivet Cemetery, 1320 E. Cass St., Joliet.