A quickly organized vigil was hosted Monday night at the Escalon Youth Center, with members of the Class of 2011 from Escalon High School gathering to share memories of classmate Josue Sanchez, 23, who drowned in the Stanislaus River near Knights Ferry.
Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department officials indicated Tuesday morning that they are awaiting DNA test results before officially releasing the identity of the victim pulled from the water on June 14 but family members on hand at Monday night’s vigil said a funeral service and burial are scheduled for Sanchez.
An EHS graduate, he was living in Stockton but worked locally as a milker at a dairy in Escalon. He and a friend had been hiking in Knights Ferry on May 23 when they decided to cool off in the river, using an inflatable to float downstream. Once they hit the rapids, officials said, both men lost their grip on the raft-like inflatable and though his friend made it to shore, Sanchez was caught in the current. Crews had been searching the river for him since and Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District crews made the recovery last week, not far from where he was last seen on the river, near the historic covered bridge.
Helping organize the vigil, which also was designed to raise funds for the family to offset funeral costs, was classmate Karina Chavez.
“What better way to bring everyone together to remember him, to honor him,” Chavez said.
Signatures and messages were being gathered on photo boards and a large cut out cross, which will be displayed at the funeral service.
Cassandra Yepez, another friend, said the tragedy hit close to home and they hoped to help the family by bringing friends and classmates together to celebrate his life.
A Rosary was scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday, June 21 followed by the funeral at Cano Funeral Home in Stockton. At noon, a Mass is planned at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church on Highway 120 in Escalon, followed by burial.
Chavez said several groups provided some donations to help with the Monday night vigil effort, with all proceeds benefiting the family.
She, along with many EHS alum, were sharing what are now bittersweet memories of Josue Sanchez.
“I just remember him walking down the halls, I can see him smiling, he always had something funny to say, some kind of sarcastic remark,” Chavez remembered. “You hear the saying that a person can light up a room, he would walk in and he literally did light up a room. He was a great guy.”
Younger sister Lluvia Sanchez, 21, said though the family is devastated by the loss, they were appreciative of the outpouring of love and support.
“This is amazing,” she said, looking around at the crowd filling up the Youth Center.
She attended the vigil along with her mother, Cristina and younger brother Christian, 7, who live in Oakdale.
“We were on the river looking for him every single day,” Lluvia added of the family being involved in the search effort.
And while the outcome isn’t what they hoped for, she said there is some comfort in finally having closure with the recovery of his body.
She also said the friend that accompanied Josue that day is “doing better” and also spent time with the family during the search efforts.
Outside the Youth Center on Monday evening, Highway 120 Tacos out of Ripon was serving up dinner while inside, a number of items were available to purchase.
Omar Chairez graduated with the Class of 2012 but said Josue was “one of my best friends” and was there to remember and honor him on Monday. He and several other attendees wore shirts with photos of Sanchez on them, with the messages ‘Rest Easy’ and ‘You Will Forever be In Our Hearts.’
“I’m really grateful for what they’ve done,” Lluvia said of the effort.