A Tragic Drowning

By Mike Cyr

April 14th, 1970, 50 years ago. I was just a couple of months shy of my 17th Birthday. It was a Tuesday afternoon and I had arrived home from classes at St Mary’s High School.

The Hopedale Police Department arrived at my house on Freedom Street. They looked very serious as they approached the house. One of the officers, Bob Taylor, asked my mother if I was available to talk with them. I knew I hadn’t done anything recently that would require police intervention, but I was nervous.

They began the conversation by asking me to confirm that their information that I, like my father was a Certified SCUBA Diver. I confirmed that I was. Back in 1970 SCUBA Divers were a rare group. In fact, my father, John Cembruch and I were the only three in Hopedale. John and my father were both working out of town, so I was the sole Hopedale resident who was qualified at that moment.

Bob Taylor explained to me and my mother that they had received a call from Milford PD that two young boys were missing in Milford and were last seen going fishing at one of the quarries off of Dilla Street, and a call was going out for SCUBA Divers to assist in Search and possible Recovery of the children. Everyone was hoping that they had gone fishing at another location and had just lost track of time. Of course, they were looking for my mother’s permission as they knew they were asking a 16 year old to perform what could turn out to be a potentially gruesome task. She looked at me and said that it was up to me. If I felt I could handle this and she was fine with me lending a hand.

We gathered up my wet suit, regulator, tank, mask, flippers and weight belt and loaded them into the cruiser. It was a solemn ride over to Dilla Street, but when we arrived, the scene was frantic. There were fire trucks, firemen and police cruisers from all the surrounding towns, and what seemed to be half the Milford Police Department. I suited up, hooked up my Regulator to my tank grabbed my netted gear bag and started down the pathway toward Sibson Quarry. This walk wasn’t new. I had gone diving in many of the quarries before with my dad as well as one of my buddies from St Mary’s who was also certified in SCUBA.

This time though my arrival seemed to be a special event. Someone from Milford Police and Fire met me and the Hopedale Officers introduced me. When they heard my name, their faces got almost ashen. They asked hesitantly, “Are you any relation to Gene Cyr?” I replied, “He is my cousin. He and my father are first cousins. Why do you ask?” They looked at each other and in a very soft and almost apologetic voice one said, “Michael, I am sorry to tell you that you are going to be meeting your Cousin Gene and his wife. It is his children; your cousins Gene Jr and Joey we are looking for.” My heart began to race, my stomach began to spin a hundred miles an hour and my mind raced almost out of control. As adDiver I had recovered many “things” for people. Jewelry, glasses, outboard motors.

At this point in my life the only dead body I had seen was my grandfather Burns some three years back. He was all nicely dressed in his coffin and had lived a full life and died a natural death in his sleep. Now, not only was this my first search for possible drowning victims, but they were children only 7 and 10 years old and family members! I almost wanted to scream take me back home now! But there was a job to do and all these people were looking to an almost 17 year old to do the job. And of course, it was my family. My air tank started to feel as though it weighed a ton as I followed them down the path.

It wasn’t much further that I first saw Gene’s wife Roseanne and I remember her looking right at me with a pleading scream, “Michael, please, please don’t find them! Don’t find them!” Trying to be as comforting as a 17 year old could be, I assured that I was praying that they had just taken off with some friends and everything would be fine. Gene grabbed hold of my arm and with tear-filled eyes just said, “Mike,” and I said, “I know,” and moved toward the quarry.

Arriving at quarry side I looked to my left and saw a pole and tackle box on the ledge. I looked around the rest of the Quarry and saw another pole almost directly opposite the one to my left. It was in a spot that was elevated from our where we were. I knew that was the deeper end.  I was told another diver was coming from Medway and was asked if I wanted to wait for him. I declined and said that daylight was waning, and we needed to begin soon or lose all light.

 I told the Fire Captain that I would begin to my left as that was the shallower end of the quarry and if I needed assistance it was the safest and easiest part of the quarry to be given help. As I descended below the water, it was so dark I could not see two feet in front of me. I groped around in the darkness until I felt a rubber boot between my fingers. My heart stopped as I reached around expecting to find an ankle, but nothing came into my hand. I surfaced with boot in hand and heard Roseanne’s almost blood curdling screams. It was Joey’s boot. By this time my search partner arrived.  The sun had all but set. The fire departments had set up flood lights to help us see. We coordinated a search pattern in the area where I had found Joey’s boot. As we crisscrossed the area, the water was freezing cold and pitch black. The search lights offered very little illumination in the twenty feet of water we were diving in. I knew the other end of the quarry was almost 70 feet deep.

Our search pattern finally paid off. We found the brothers just feet apart from each other. Gathering them gently in our arms, we brought them back to their parents at quarry side. Roseanne collapsed, slowly sliding down Gene’s side until she lay in a collapsed ball of grief; Gene comforted her while looking at his boys’ limp, still bodies.  I remember news camera flash bulbs going off behind me. Then for me everything just went silent. People were talking, crying, screaming. I think I was being asked questions, but I didn’t hear a single sound.

From this point my mind is a total blur as to how post-recovery events unfolded. I made it home, I assume by police cruiser. I really can’t remember if it was Milford or Hopedale police. I can’t remember the rest of the evening. I don’t think I spoke to anyone. I had a sleepless night just thinking of the sights and sounds of the afternoon and evening.

The next day at St Mary’s, I was called to Sister Rose’s office. She wanted to know how I was holding up. Gene and Joey attended the grade school and junior high, so the news had travelled fast. She had heard that I was part of the recovery team. Her usually stern look was surprisingly passion filled. She asked if I wanted to take the day off. I thanked her but said I would rather keep busy than just go home and think about the whole thing. She told me that if I became overwhelmed at any time, I could feel free to leave class. She took my hand and began praying for me and Gene, Joey and their parents.

Their Funeral Mass was a few days later. It was a beautiful Mass with a packed church and the two so very small coffins before the altar rail. The whole town mourned for quite some time.

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