ITHACA N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A prospective ivy-leaguer from the Bronx drowned while swimming in Upstate New York this weekend.
As CBS2’s Dave Carlin reported, incoming Cornell University freshman Winston Samuel Perez-Ventura drowned while swimming in Fall Creek in Ithaca on Saturday, according to the school’s Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi.
Photos of Perez-Ventura that his family and friends will forever treasure show him beaming with pride. One recent photo shows him with his baby brother, while another shows him looking elated in his Cornell University sweatshirt.
Perez-Ventura is also the focus of a video from Democracy Prep Harlem High, which captured his overjoyed reaction when learning he was accepted to Cornell.
The first of many congratulatory hugs was between Perez-Ventura and his mother. She brought him to the Bronx from the Dominican Republic when he was 9 years old.
Now, she is in Ithaca to retrieve her son’s body.
Police in Ithaca say officers were dispatched just after 2:30 p.m. Saturday to the falls for reports that a person had entered the gorge waters to swim but had not surfaced.
Crews from the Ithaca Police Department, Cornell University Police Department, Ithaca Fire Department, and the New York State Dive Team searched the nearby gorges and waterways that filter into the falls for several hours.
The state dive team discovered Winston’s body in Ithaca Falls Gorge around 7:20 p.m., according to police.
Perez-Ventura was in Ithaca with fellow incoming students participating in the on-campus pre-freshman summer program and was planning to study at the university’s College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, according to Lombardi. He would have started regular classes as a freshman in two weeks.
“You go to college with all these hopes and dreams,” said Hilda Santana. “It breaks my heart as a mom of teenagers.”
Friends of Perez-Ventura said considered Cornell his dream University. They said it was that he is heartbreaking that he worked so hard academically to get in, only to die so young.”
“He was so into the community; did a lot of volunteer work,” said one close family friend.
The family friend asked CBS2 not to show her face, as she tearfully described a young man who planned to study architecture and whose energy and dedication inspired her and others.
“He was very creative. He loved to draw. He loved to paint – just smart and well rounded,” she said.
In high school, Lombardi says Winston participated in the Fellowship Initiative, an enrichment program for young men of color.
Winston was “an exceptional person who would have contributed greatly to our university community,” according to Lombardi.
Ithaca police reminded everyone of the dangers of hiking and swimming in the Gorges, where strong currents and slipping shale are ever present.
“The Ithaca gorges are so, so beautiful but they can be very dangerous if folks don’t obey the posted signs,” Acting Ithaca Chief of Police Pete Taylor stated as the search was ongoing. “The signs are in place for no other reason than to keep folks safe when they enter our gorges.”
A community support meeting was held Sunday morning in the Cook House dining room on Cornell’s west campus.