GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The community has come together in a big way to show its support for a family dealing with tragedy.
It’s been nearly a week since 21-year-old Jonathan Mendez from Wyoming drowned near the Grand Haven shoreline.
“It’s sad and painful to accept reality,” Mendez’s mother, Beatriz Hernandez, told News 8.
Last Sunday was a red flag day, and Mendez’s family says a rip current pulled him under at Grand Haven State Park.
“You see your son fighting for his life in the water and you can’t do anything about it,” Hernandez said.
Mendez was swept away from the shore and past the swim buoys around 3:50 p.m. that day, according to the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety. After a search that lasted for two hours, Mendez’s body was pulled from the water.
Cpt. Lee Adams with the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety said the conditions were “very dangerous that day.”
“Even the rescuers who were trained in this water were having a hard time with the rip current,” Adams said.
When he was 16, Mendez started working as a cook at Tacos el Cunado on Bridge Street in Grand Rapids. For the restaurant’s owner, Mary Martinez, Mendez was like a son to her.
“You never expect this,” Martinez said. “It’s only 21 years old, and he’s like my son. I was in shock. I was so sad.”
The community has been there for the family in their time of need. Martinez told News 8 the restaurant raised more than $15,000 for the family during its Friday fundraiser, surpassing their initial goal.
They are not done yet — staff members say donations are still coming in.
“A lot of people support us,” Martinez said. “And I just want to say thank you everybody for coming to support us.”
As Mendez’s family and friends prepare to lay him to rest, he leaves happy memories behind.
“When the customers come here, he’s always singing, dancing, happy,” Martinez said. “They know Johnny. They know he was a very happy kid.”
A GoFundMe has also been set up for Mendez’s family.