Body recovered of second man who went missing in Suwannee River
Published: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at 8:21 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at 8:21 p.m.
Search teams on Tuesday found the body of the second man who went missing last week after the pair tried to save an 8-year-old boy who fell into the Suwannee River. The discovery came one day after the body of the first man was found.
Officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission helped retrieve the body of 19-year-old Haemant Nathooram from the Suwannee River at about 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, said Lt. Jeff Manning, spokesman for the Gilchrist County Sheriff's Office.
Nathooram's body was in a debris-strewn part of the river about a quarter-mile from where he and 38-year-old Al Melendez, the father of the boy, were last seen in the Log Landing Wildlife Management Area.
Melendez's body was found about a half-mile to three-quarters of a mile from where the pair were last seen.
The discovery of Nathooram's body ended a search that began the evening of March 11 when the men tried to rescue Melendez's son Taylor, who fell into the river while playing with a remote-controlled boat. Nathooram, who couldn't swim, fell into the water as he tried to save Taylor.
Two others at Log Landing pulled Taylor from the river, and Melendez tried to save Nathooram, who was his intended son-in-law. But both men were swept away by the current.
The Gilchrist Sheriff's Office, with help from other area sheriff's offices and organizations, searched miles of the river for the missing men.
“It was a nice effort on everyone's part, and we certainly appreciate all the cooperation we had from all the different agencies,” Manning said.
Melendez's wife, Christina, said the recovery of the men's bodies puts an end to the past week of uncertainty. It was hell, she said, not knowing if they would ever be found.
“I don't think we'll ever move on really,” she said. “Our lives will go on. Just, we'll never be the same without those two.”
Now, she said she is trying to figure out how to pay for Melendez's funeral service. Burial will cost about $12,000. The cheapest coffin the family could find costs $6,000, she said.
But she and her husband didn't have life insurance, and the only money she said she has is this Friday's forthcoming paycheck.
She has set up a fund for her husband's funeral arrangements -- the Christina Melendez and AJ Melendez Relief Fund -- to which people can contribute at any TD Bank location, she said.
‘Like a son to him'
Nathooram grew close to Melendez after he moved to Gilchrist County with Melendez's oldest child, 18-year-old Chrissy, earlier this year.
Melendez wasn't sure of Nathooram at first because he was protective of his daughter, Christina Melendez said. But she told her husband he needed to learn to love him, so he gave Nathooram a chance.
“Next thing you know, he was like a son to him,” she said.
Nathooram planned to get his GED in April, and Melendez was teaching him to work on cars, she said.
Nathooram and Chrissy, who is pregnant with his child, were going to get married and were planning the wedding, Christina Melendez said. “She's breaking down. She's trying to stay positive but … she's just holding onto the little life inside of her,” the mother said.
For Christina Melendez, the one thing she is holding onto following the death of both her husband and her intended son-in-law is her son Taylor, whom both men died trying to save.
“I'm just thankful I've got my son here. I don't think I could have loved him more than that day when he saved him,” she said of her husband. “I lost my world, but I've still got pieces of him everywhere.”
‘God took him away'
Nathooram's mother, Savidree, said her son had friends and family all over the place, from Florida and New York to Canada and Guyana, where he was born.
“Everybody loved him,” she said. He was especially close to his 10-year-old sister Jenny, who would call him for advice on all kinds of things, Savidree Nathooram said.
“He's my baby,” she said, adding that she and her son talked every day. If she hadn't called him by noon or so, she said he would call to make sure she was OK.
“God took him away. And someone tried to save his life, and God took him away too,” she said. “God needs him more than I need him right now.”
Savidree Nathooram said she is happy to have her son's body back so she can take him to New York City, where many of his friends and family are, to be buried.
She said she remembers telling him a while ago that she wanted to be cremated, but he told her she had to be buried so she'd have a marker he could visit.
“I never asked him what he wanted, so I guess he wanted the same,” she said. “So I'll do the same for him.”
Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or firstname.lastname@example.org.