Body pulled from James River identified

Published: Jun. 27, 2013 at 3:23 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 8, 2013 at 9:02 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Police have identified the body pulled from the James River Thursday as that of the missing 15-year-old.

Emerson-Josue Zelaya-Aguilera, 15, was swept away from his friends while swimming two days ago. His body was found in the James in the 4700 block of Deepwater Terminal, near the entrance to the Port of Richmond.

This is the first drowning death and body recovery for Richmond Fire, so far this year. As emergency responders converged on the river, one worker put it simply-- "it's a sad day."

The call came in just before 10 o'clock. Someone spotted a body in the river. Police and forensics, along with the ambulance authority and fire department were called to the scene.

Fire officials say the body was seen floating near the middle of the river. That part of the James doesn't have as many rocks, rapids or turbines, so the current moves more slowly there. It was easier for crews to get to this body.

Then, the recovery operation hit challenges.

"Pretty gradient downward to the river," Richmond Fire Lt. Robbie Hagaman described. "The terrain is a little steep. There's an embankment that goes down. Boat crews were able to make it to the embankment fairly easily but it took some logistics in getting crews and resources down."

Those resources had been readily available because for two days now, crews have been searching for 15-year-old Emerson Zelaya. He was swept away while swimming with family and friends near Brown's Island Tuesday.

"It's something that we train to do but it can be emotionally tasking," Hagaman added. "Anytime we perform an operation like this it's extremely sad."

Emotions also ran high on the banks of the James as Emerson's family held vigil near the Mayo Bridge Wednesday, waiting for word on their loved one.

"I'm sure you can imagine they're destroyed totally," Zelaya's cousin, Alfredo Hernandez, said.

The body was taken to the medical examiner's office where doctors will also determine how this person died.

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