A body found in the Los Angeles River over the weekend has been identified as a missing 14-year-old boy who vanished from San Fernando amid a powerful storm that hit the area more than a week ago, the L.A. County coroner’s office confirmed Tuesday, three days after the grim discovery was made.
Family members, friends and community members were out searching for Elias “Eli” Rodriguez Saturday when, about 1:15 p.m., one of the volunteers located a body lying face down on a small island in the river near the 5 Freeway in Los Feliz.
Los Angeles Police Department detectives worked throughout the day Saturday to investigate and rule out foul play, but were initially unable to confirm an identity without a coroner’s report.
Elias’ family remained at the scene through the evening, hoping to get confirmation that the body was that of their loved one.
Investigators recovered the body around 9 p.m. that night, but it had been badly battered from traveling down the canal through the rushing water; the coroner’s office said that dental records would be used to make a positive identification. His body likely traveled a distance of more than 20 miles from the area where he was last seen.
The cause of death was ruled an accidental drowning.
The teen’s family members planned speak at a news conference on Glenoaks Boulevard above the Pacoima Wash at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. A memorial has been set up for the boy there.
Even before his death was confirmed, officials said they believed it was his body that was found on the small island. A makeshift memorial of candles, flowers and balloons grew Monday as mourners went to a spot near the river to remember and honor Elias.
The Sylmar boy was last seen by students and friends walking away from the Cesar E. Chavez Learning Academies in the 1000 block of Arroyo Street in San Fernando on Friday, Feb. 17, the same day a storm brought several inches of rain to Southern California.
The school is located just a few blocks from his grandparents’ house, and he would usually go there once classes were done for the day.
Surveillance video apparently captured him a short time later walking in front of businesses on Glenoaks Boulevard.
In a Saturday news conference, LAPD Capt. Peter Casey guessed that Rodriguez did not use an overpass while walking home from school that day and instead traversed the Pacoima Wash, a path he said is common with most of the high school students. The Pacoima Wash feeds into the Tujunga Wash, which is a tributary of the L.A. River.
Investigators searched the wash several times over a period of days.
The teen called his mother from a friend’s phone the day he disappeared, but she didn’t pick up because she didn’t recognize the number, police said. Elias left a voicemail saying he was walking home.
Family members described the boy’s absence as uncharacteristic, saying Elias had never run away from home before. His aunt, Jessenia Vega, said Elias would never leave his mother, who has been undergoing radiation and chemotherapy after being diagnosed with cancer.
The case was being investigated by LAPD, the San Fernando Police Department, the Los Angeles School Police Department and the FBI.
A GoFundMe page has been set up for the teen’s family.
On Tuesday afternoon, Rodriguez’s aunt, Jessenia Vega, addressed reporters saying her family still has a lot of unanswered questions about what happened to the boy.
While reading a statement, she referred to her nephew in the present tense saying that she believed his “spirit” was still among them.
The family will hold a vigil on Friday at 7 p.m. from the the Cesar E. Chavez Learning Academies to the wash.
KTLA’s Irving Last contributed to this story.