Drowning deaths of two cousins mourned in Belmar

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Flowers are placed on the Belmar boardwalk in memory of two young cousins. RYAN WELSH / THE COAST STAR

BELMAR — Two Belmar Elementary School girls — cousins who had gone swimming together the night before school ended — died after being pulled from the ocean near 9th Avenue.

Mitzi Hernandez, 13, was pronounced dead on Thursday, June 15, and Emily Gonzalez-Perez, 12, died Monday, June 19, after four days on life support at Jersey Shore Medical Center in Neptune City.

The cousins were in the sixth and fifth grades respectively. Their deaths prompted an outpouring of grief and a drive for financial assistance to their families.

“It was a very difficult day, Friday,” Belmar Schools Superintendent David R. Hallman said. “It was painful for obviously the families first, but [also for] students and teachers.”

According to Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni and Belmar Police Chief Andrew Huisman, a Belmar patrolman and a member of the borough’s water rescue team responded to a 911 call at 6:10 p.m. on Thursday, June 15. They arrived at 10th and Ocean avenues and swam out to recover an unconscious victim, later identified as Emily.

The officials said she “was removed from the water and given CPR until first aid arrived” and CPR continued en route to Jersey Shore Medical Center.

At about 6:54 p.m., officials said, “a second victim, [later identified as Emily’s cousin Mitzi Hernandez, 13], was located unconscious in the ocean at 9111 and Ocean Avenue.” CPR was also administered to Mitzi, who died en route to the same hospital, officials said.

Four days later, Mayor Matthew Doherty posted the following announcement on his Facebook page: “It is with a heavy heart that I must report that heaven has reclaimed another angel. After a valiant fight for the past few days, Emily’s little body gave out and she passed this afternoon. Please pray for her family as they grieve.”

The two girls were apparently alone at the beach, where posted lifeguard coverage ended at 5:30 p.m. on weekdays and 7 p.m. on weekend.

A GoFundMe page titled “Belmar Angels” was created on Saturday evening by Borough Administrator Colleen Connolly. By Sunday, Mayor Doherty had announced that money from sales of tickets to the June 23 Mayor’s Ball would be used to make a $20,000 donation to the families of the two girls to help cover medical and funeral expenses.

For more on this story, read The Coast Star—on newsstands Thursday or online in our e-Edition.

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Connor Northrup is a Reporter at The Coast Star. He can be reached at cnorthrup@thecoaststar.com or at 732-223-0076, ext 23.