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Family trying to bring back father’s body from Puerto Rico after drowning while saving daughters


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    HARTFORD, Connectitcut (WFSB) — A Hartford father lost his life after heroically saving his daughters from drowning.

The tragedy happening on a family vacation to Puerto Rico.

The family is now running into obstacles in bringing their father’s body back home.

On Christmas, the Gonzalez family surprised their daughters with a trip to Puerto Rico. It would be the girls’ first time and the second for their father, Jose.

“They had this as a vacation for them. They bough them luggage, bathing suits, everything,” said Sophia Serrano, victim’s cousin.

Excited to embrace their culture, 18-year-old Makiyah and 16-year-old Leilani, chronicled the trip nearly every step of the way.

On Monday, they departed the cold weather and embraced the warmth.

On Wednesday, the trip would take a tragic turn when the Hartford family visited a beach on the island’s north side.

“The waves are strong, it’s different than the waves in San Juan and the other side of Puerto Rico,” said Frankie Huertas, victim’s brother-in-law.

Frankie Huertas is Jose’s brother-in-law, and he’s been to Puerto Rico many times and knows the beach in Manati has a dangerous side.

“My brother-in-law went over there and didn’t know the waters,” Huertas said.

The girls went swimming and found themselves overwhelmed.

“A wave came, and they couldn’t see his girls and went in there,” said Najelena Lobon, a cousin.

Jose got his youngest daughter to shore.

“The older one, she was more out at sea and struggling more,” Lobon said.

Jose pushed her on a rock, but his family says the current swept the 42-year-old away.

“She was kind of just looking at dad, like, ‘I love you, I think I’m going to die,’ but he said, ‘no, you’re not,’ and as a hero, that’s what he did. He pushed his daughter on a rock, and he did what he had to do and went out as a proper good father,” Lobon said.

Jose made the ultimate sacrifice and for those he knew and loved, his final heroic moments came as no surprise.

“His daughters were his life and no matter what, he would do anything to keep them safe,” Huertas said.

Hearts broken back home, compounded because Jose’s daughters and his widow remain in Puerto Rico.

“His wife doesn’t want to leave until he’s with her, so they’re all kind of just stuck there,” Lobon said.

Bringing his body back home is proving to be a struggle, financially and logistically.

They say they’re running into COVID obstacles when all they want is to give their hero the service he deserves.

“He did the right thing to me because he’s a hero in my book. I would have done the same thing if I was in his shoes,” Huertas said.

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