LAWRENCE -- The names of four children ages 7 to 11 who drowned Saturday after plunging through thin ice on the Merrimack River were read this morning over loudspeakers, followed by a moment of silence at each of the city's 18 schools.
Three of the dead -- Christopher Casado, 7, Mackendy Constant, 8, and Victor Baez, 9 -- attended Guilmette School. The fourth and oldest victim, William Rodriguez, 11, attended Parthum School. Three children who fell through the ice but survived attended either Guilmette, Parthum or Bruce schools.
Several uniformed police officers stood at different spots outside Guilmette School in the gently falling snow this morning. The officers guided away reporters and other curious people. At least three television camera crews tried talking to parents and children, who looked somber on their way into school.
One girl, Cynthia Mejia, 13, said she was visiting her aunt and playing outside Saturday when they heard sirens. She saw the boys being pulled from the river and immediately wondered whether any were her classmates. It turns out one was -- William was in her fifth-grade class last year.
This morning, Cynthia carried a newspaper account of the tragedy in her school backpack.
One parent, Camellia Marrero, was walking her 7-year-old son, Juan Maldonado, to school, saying she had tried over the weekend to talk to him about the deaths.
"It was difficult," she said.
Crossing guard Audrey Viveiros said the mood of students walking to school was "absolutely'' more serious today. She said more parents than usual were walking or driving their children to school.
"It's a terrible thing," she said.
Guilmette student Wilson Jimenez, 14, said he has eighth-grade history class with Walson Constant, brother of drowning victim Mackendy Constant. Wilson said he was upset when he saw TV news coverage of the deaths, and that his parents immediately warned him to never go on river ice. He said this morning that he was anxious to get to school to see his friends.
More than 45 councilors have been assigned to the three schools for grieving students and teachers, School Superintendent Wilfredo T. Laboy said. Police Chief John J. Romero contributed a large police presence at the school. The superintendent said in the future, schools will try to do a better job educating students about the dangers of pond and river ice.
"I think there's a lot to learn from the this tragedy," Laboy said. "These were Caribbean kids who probably didn't know how dangerous playing on the ice can be. These poor kids just used bad judgement and it cost them their lives."
City officials spent much of yesterday in meetings with Mayor Michael J. Sullivan planning how to help the community deal with the worst tragedy on the river in almost a century.