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Teen with ‘heart of gold’ drowns in Welland River

John Law

By John Law, Niagara Falls Review

Niagara Falls teen Gage Rockwell drowned in the Welland River Friday while swimming with a friend. PHOTO: Facebook

Niagara Falls teen Gage Rockwell drowned in the Welland River Friday while swimming with a friend. PHOTO: Facebook

For 18-year-old Gage Rockwell, it was supposed to be a summer of fun before figuring out what direction his life would take. He had just graduated from Welland Centennial Secondary School and was going to take a year off before going to college.

On Friday afternoon, he and a friend were bored and decided to go swimming in the Welland River.

A few hours later, his parents received the police visit every parent dreads: Their son was gone.

“There was undertow and we believe that pulled him down,” said his heartbroken mom Jessica on Sunday. “His friend said he was doing fine and then he started calling for help.”

Niagara Regional Police say the teen was swimming in an area adjacent to a campground on Stanley Avenue when he started struggling. Nearby campers attempted to help but couldn't reach him.

For Jessica and husband Wayne, it was eerily similar to a near-tragic vacation in Mexico six years ago when Gage was caught by an undertow while swimming.

“The waves were coming up and he just kept getting pushed out,” she recalls. “My husband went and got him, but he had a hard time coming back as well.”

For that reason, she says, Gage would have never entered the Welland River had he known the strength of the currents.

“I see people swimming in there all the time and nobody's ever had a problem,” she said. “His friend has gone swimming there before. And there's no sign to say there's an undertow or fast current...there's no fence up, no nothing.

“If he would have known there was undertow there, he wouldn't have went,” she added. “He doesn't take chances, he's no a risk taker. He doesn't do stupid things. I know he's a boy and should do stupid things, but he never did. He was just too afraid.”

Raised in Welland, Rockwell and his family moved to Niagara Falls last April. He played baseball as a youth and more recently was a goalie for the Welland Tigers of the Niagara District Hockey League.

He recently signed up for ball hockey and had just bought a new stick.

“He had just finished taping it,” said Jessica, choking back tears over the phone.

While he wasn't “a fan” of school, he loved the social aspect and had plenty of friends.

“He didn't do well with his grades, but he loved hanging out with his friends,” she said. “He had a heart of gold. He would do anything for anybody. He put them before himself always.”

Funeral details for Rockwell are pending. A GoFundMe page has been created to help the family with the unexpected funeral costs. To contribute, visit www.gofundme.com/gage-rockwell-funeral-expenses

jlaw@postmedia.com