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Friends, family hold vigil in Cuero for missing teen

By ERICA RODRIGUEZ
May 16, 2010 at 12:16 a.m.
Updated May 17, 2010 at 12:17 a.m.

Cheryl Perez, center, clutches a photo of her son, 17-year-old Jeremy Perez, at a vigil Sunday.

CUERO - Heads bowed and faces tensed as family and friends lifted candles Sunday evening toward the Guadalupe River.

Jeremy Perez, a 17-year-old Cuero High School student, went missing Friday after swimming with friends and being swept downstream.

The crowd clutched photos of Perez taped to popsicle sticks.

They prayed for his safe return.

"I'll accept any way the dear Lord wants me to find him," said his mother, Cheryl Perez, of Cuero. "I just want to find him. I won't be able to sleep at night knowing we gave up on him, ever."

Law enforcement officers with the DeWitt County Sheriff's Office, The Department of Public Safety and Texas Parks and Wildlife searched from 9:30 a.m. Sunday on the river and planned to search until dark, said Sheriff Jode Zavesky. Jeremy was last seen near the state Highway 72 bridge just outside of Cuero about noon Friday. Zavesky said the receding river levels have made the search somewhat easier.

"It's pretty much a waiting game at this time," he said.

The normal course of things is the body will become more buoyant, making it easier to locate, Zavesky said.

"We're relatively sure it'll be a recovery," he said.

Family and friends have remained beneath the bridge, where Jeremy was last seen, since Friday.

Edward Wade, 18, Jeremy's friend who was swimming with the teen last remembers him being swept away.

"The last thing I saw of him was when he went down," Wade said. "He was floating down the river just bobbing, trying to catch his breath."

Many at the vigil described Jeremy as funny and a "good kid."

"I couldn't be mad at him because he would always find a way to make me smile," his mother said.

Jeremy, who played the drums in his school's band, was passionate about music. He was also involved in the JROTC at a former high school. He hoped to join the Navy and eventually become a police officer.

Although Jeremy's grades weren't the best, Cheryl Perez remembers in her last words with him he promised he would do better and try to get a job.

"He said, 'Mom, I'm going to try, Mom. I'm going to do this for you,'" she said.

Cheryl Perez was upset at the response of law enforcement and searched the riverbanks with lanterns alongside family and friends until early Saturday morning. She believes more can be done to try to locate Jeremy.

"I want to see people in the water," she said. "If not, I'll get in the water. Let me find my baby."

Others present were also upset at the response of search crews, who they believe moved slowly and with limited efforts.

"I just think the emergency situation, the execution was totally wrong," said Gino Cuellar, Jeremy's uncle.

In the last moments of the vigil those with flaming candles tossed them into the water. The crowd sang a soft hymn as many wiped away tears.

"We're here to pray for Jeremy that by some miracle of God he's still alive and not presumed dead," said Catherine Ortiz, Jeremy's grandmother. "I'm hoping that he's still alive."

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