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Pals, mentors, teachers grapple with teens' deaths in ice

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Photo by Brian Giandelone

DACULA -- Josh Emmanuel laid a yellow rose Monday on the burgeoning waterside memorial where, beyond a shattered pane of ice, his friends had plunged to their deaths about 48 hours prior.

Emmanuel, 15, like most visitors, was dizzy with emotion, the two wooden crosses, piles of bouquets, teddy bears, candles and football memorabilia evidence that both boys were truly gone. But Emmanuel recalled a funny kind of dichotomy that made the victims -- Marvens Mathurin, 13, and Jacob Bullock, 14 -- an odd pairing.

"Marvens was the play-around type," Emmanuel said. "Jacob was like a tough, jock kind of person."

Emmanuel joined streams of friends, family and caring strangers at the pond's edge in Dacula's Daniel Park subdivision. Some bowed in quiet reverie, depositing flowers and handwritten notes and even a Monster energy drink. Others openly wept.

The teens' fatal mishap, according to some, will serve as a cautionary tale.

Mathurin's next-door neighbor, Kyla Williams, 22, recalled a fun-loving youngster always eager to chat.

"Every time I'd come by, he'd say 'Hey,' and tell me about his football (team)," Williams said. "He was always real outgoing, always running around with us other kids."

The teens died Saturday afternoon when ice broke beneath them as they played near the middle of the semi-frozen neighborhood pond. A friend, Alex Paul, 15, pulled himself from the frigid waters and survived.

Rescue workers coaxed Paul to shore and treated him for hypothermia and shock. They used 10-foot pike poles to locate and pull the others to the surface, but not before they'd been submerged for nearly an hour, officials said.

Emmanuel Francois worshiped with Mathurin at Good Samaritan Church, where he said the teen of Haitian descent was dedicated to his faith. Though Mathurin's family had immigrated to Gwinnett via New Jersey about 10 years ago, he remained fluent in Creole, French and English, Francois said.

"He loved the church," he said. "You know, it's sad. For everybody."

The wake of grief wasn't confined to the waterside memorial.

At Osborne Middle School, where both victims were in eighth grade, principal John Campbell said he'd been compiling a game plan since Sunday to help the school cope.

"I'm just trying to help my students and my teachers deal with their grief and become whole again, because right now we're hurting," Campbell said. "We're all hurting."

Campbell requested a team of crisis response counselors to visit the school Monday. He encouraged teachers to talk to their students about what happened.

"We're talking about this -- about what did happen, how they're feeling about it -- and letting them go through the grieving process," Campbell said.

School leaders posted large sheets of paper throughout the school and allowed students to write messages to the victims, Campbell said. They also wrote letters of condolences to the families of both boys, he said.

The two played for the Gwinnett Football League, a recreational youth football program. Campbell said both boys were well-known in the school.

"They were good athletes, both fun kids," he said.

Friends of the teens built a tribute page on the social networking site Facebook, where many had posted remembrances and aired sorrows Monday.

The fatal plunge happened hours after Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services authorities issued a warning to stay off lakes and ponds in the face of unusually frigid temperatures -- and subsequent school closings -- last week.

Rarely does the Southern climate dip low enough to form ice thick enough to hold animals, let alone adults or children, Fire Department spokesman Capt. Thomas Rutledge cautioned.

A posting on Daniel Park's homeowner's association Web site advised of dangers presented by deceptively thin ice on the pond, and residents told the Daily Post a mass e-mail was distributed with similar warnings.

Gwinnett police responded to about 30 calls reporting children playing on frozen waters across the county as sub-freezing temps gripped the region last week, according to the 911 call center.

Stephanie Woods, a teacher who lives nearby, said news of the deaths will serve as a lesson to her daughter, Sydney, 9, who accompanied her in prayer Monday.

She knew neither boy but felt compelled to visit the memorial.

"I just told her you're not to walk on any kind of pond or frozen water because we never know how solid it is," she said. "It makes you appreciate your little ones."

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Staff Writer Heather Darenberg contributed to this report