West Haven teen's death deemed accidental drowning - WFSB 3 Connecticut

West Haven teen's death deemed accidental drowning

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Alejandro Zitlalpopoca. (Facebook photo) Alejandro Zitlalpopoca. (Facebook photo)
Bradley Point Beach in West Haven. (WFSB photo) Bradley Point Beach in West Haven. (WFSB photo)

A teen from West Haven went out for a Labor Day swim but never made it back to shore.

Tuesday, classmates of 16-year-old Alejandro Zitlalpopoca headed back to class with grief counselors on hand.

School officials said in addition to the counselors and psychologists, extra staff will be there throughout the week for anyone who needs them.

"I was watching them," said Ellen Steffen, an eyewitness. "They were together about halfway back, and then he seemed to lag and slow down while she made it in."

Eyewitnesses described the scene as a leisurely Labor Day at the beach that suddenly turned tragic.

On Tuesday, the medical examiner ruled the death as an accidental drowning.

Zitlalpopoca, a father, was at Bradley Point Beach in West Haven with his family on Monday when he decided to go swimming with his girlfriend.

The teen, who had just started his senior year at West Haven High School and was a member of the cross country and track teams, vanished beneath the water.

"I looked up and saw them swimming back this way," said Heather Smith, an eyewitness. "I looked back at my boyfriend. He was over by the tree. When I looked back, she was sitting on a rock and I didn't see him."

As family members called for help, two off-duty firefighters who happened to be down at the beach on their bikes jumped into the water and immediately began a search.

"I was watching then on the way back and he seemed to lag and slow down, and she made it in," Ellen Steffen said.

For more than three hours, firefighters, police officers, divers, the Coast Guard and even good Samaritans on jet skis looked for any sign of Zitlalpopoca.

Around 6:45 p.m., with his grieving family nearby, divers located the teen's body offshore in about five feet of water.

"I couldn't imagine what the family is going through," said Chief James O'Brien of West Haven Fire Department. "Our hearts go out to them. The best thing we could do is what we did today and locate their loved one."

West Haven's superintendent released a statement.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Alejandro's family and friends and we cannot imagine how heartbroken they must be," said Neil C. Cavallaro, superintendent. "We're devastated to see a student from our district pass away."

Students had a moment of silence Tuesday morning to remember their classmate and friend.

Family members said they are very upset about what happened but thank the public and first responders for everything that was done to try to save him.

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