A massive search and rescue mission that began Thursday for a missing 7-year-old swept away in an east Mesa canal ended Friday morning with the recovery of the body of the boy affectionately called “Chiquito Clodoaldo” by members of his large extended family.
A dive team found the body of Aldo Rubio about 9:40 a.m. in the Central Arizona Project Canal waters, about 18 hours after the boy first went missing and 60 yards from where he fell in, according to authorities.
Aldo had jumped in the canal to help his 11-year-old friend who had fallen in near University Drive and 88th Street, but the younger boy was swept away by the strong currents, authorities said.
Aldo was a first-grader at Zaharis Elementary School, and often was seen by residents in the neighborhood riding his scooter or being walked home from the bus stop by his grandfather.
Aldo loved to ride horses and was an avid fan of professional wrestling, according to the boy’s aunt and uncle, Elizabeth and Ricardo Rubio. The couple spoke Friday from the Rubio household, where dozens of family members and friends gathered to grieve.
“Seven-year-olds aren’t supposed to die,” Elizabeth Rubio said. “What is giving us comfort right now is that he was the brave boy who gave his life trying to help his friend. The family is devastated. We never expected this to happen. We had a lot of hope that somebody would find him and rescue him.”
Aldo apparently had told his mother he was going to the park down the street, Elizabeth Rubio said.
Residents who also saw Aldo in the neighborhood described him as a good kid who was “full of energy.”
“He had a lot of energy,” said neighbor Dee Jezso. “Once in a while, he’d kick one of my rocks in my front yard as he was going to school. Then, when I would see him walk by one of my rocks again, I’d say, ‘Are you going to do that again?’ and he’d just smile. This is a tragedy, such a young life.”
Kathy Bareiss, spokeswoman for the Mesa Unified School District, said authorities informed Aldo’s class Friday about the tragedy.
“The children are sad, but what we find is that children want to reach out and help,” Bareiss said.
She said the children were busy making cards for their classmate’s family Friday. Besides his parents, Aldo is survived by his three sisters, two older and one younger, Elizabeth Rubio said.
“This morning we have this horrible scene,” Bareiss said. “Yesterday he was on the playground, he was in the cafeteria, he was in reading circle.”
Bareiss said the school is providing counseling for the students and keeping a close eye on them to make sure they get through their grief.
Aldo’s friends reported him falling into the canal slightly east of Loop 202 and west of Ellsworth Road about 4:50 p.m. Thursday.
Four boys, ages 6 to 11, were playing along the canal in that area after squeezing through a hole between a concrete wall and a fence and then after climbing through another hole in a chain-link fence moments before the 11-year-old boy initially slid into the canal, according to Detective Steve Berry, a Mesa police spokeswoman.
Aldo went into the water to try to help him out, Berry said.
The 11-year-old made it out of the water, but the 7-year-old struggled in the strong currents, Berry said. The 11-year-old boy and the other two boys were unable to pull the 7-year-old out and ultimately lost sight of him as he apparently was swept away.
As the 11-year-old boy was running home, he told an adult male that the boy had fallen in, and the man called 911, Berry said.
With daylight quickly waning Thursday, a massive rescue mission quickly focused along a half-mile stretch of the canal east of Ellsworth Road where it crossed University Drive as groups of residents from the nearby neighborhoods looked on.
The search included helicopters, Mesa fire and police departments, the Apache Junction Fire Department, Central Arizona Project and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and Tempe Fire Department diving teams.
Neighbors living near the canal said there are “several” holes in the chain-link fence where people can get access to the canal banks.
“It was an accident waiting to happen,” Elizabeth Rubio said.
Berry said, “It’s just another unfortunate reminder of how dangerous these canals can be. That is why the people who operate these canals put up gates and fences. If you get into one of these canals, it can be extremely difficult to come back out. The walls are very steep and there’s nothing to grab onto.”
The eastward currents in the canal were traveling about 5 mph, or 800 cubic feet per second, and waters were as deep as 17 to 20 feet, according to Berry.
“That doesn’t seem that fast, but with that amount of water in the canal, it’s pretty strong,” Berry said.