A body found over the weekend on a small island in the Los Angeles River is believed to be that of a 14-year-old boy who went missing after school on the day a powerful storm hit the area, authorities said.
The body was found by a volunteer about 1 p.m. Saturday along a section of the river in Los Feliz near the 5 Freeway, the Los Angeles Police Department reported. Police said the recovered body was badly battered from traveling down the canal through rushing water, where currents reached up to 70 mph.
Officials were working Monday to confirm if the body was that of Elias Rodriguez, who police said was last seen walking home from the Cesar E. Chavez Learning Academies, located in the 1000 block of Arroyo Street in San Fernando, on Feb. 17.
Rodriguez called his mother and left a message on her cell phone, letting her know he was on his way to his home in Sylmar but he never made it.
Authorities believe Rodriguez was swept away by rising waters near the Pacoima Wash that feeds into the L.A. River on the day he disappeared.
The Los Angeles County Coroner's Office is using dental records to make a positive identification, officials said Monday.
The FBI, LAPD and other law enforcement agencies, as well as family, friends and community members had all been involved in exhaustive searches for Rodriguez.
A $50,000 reward was also offered for information leading to his discovery.
On Sunday Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti commented on the teen's tragic disappearance.
"Words cannot capture the agony that Elias' grieving family has felt since his disappearance," Garcetti said in a released statement. "I've asked my Crisis Response Team, who have been with the family, to do everything to help them through what is surely their worst nightmare."
On Monday parents and students at Cesar E. Chavez Learning Academies voiced sadness in learning about the possibility of the body being Rodriguez.
"I know I have a kid almost that age and I could feel what the mother is going through. I feel really bad and I just pray that he rests in peace," parent Sylvia Ayon told KTLA.
A memorial with candles, balloons and flowers was set up Monday afternoon on a sidewalk close to where the body was discovered. Mourners stopped by throughout the afternoon and evening.
Susana Cisneros, who attended the same middle school as Rodriguez and has known him since the sixth grade, said it was hard to believe such a tragedy could befall someone she knew.
“He was a really nice kid. It’s sad to know that this happened,” she told KTLA. “Every day I kept hoping that they’ll find him.”
San Fernando resident Karen Cortez said she didn't know Rodriguez personally but came out to pay respects out of solidarity.
“This could happen to anyone,” she said. “We didn’t know him but we, in this community, we’re close to each other and he seems like a brother to us. I hope that he can finally rest in peace.”