Hearing that the body of a 17-year-old drowning victim was found, friends and relatives head to the Gwynns Falls site by car, van and on foot to grieve with the family.

A wake in the woods for Joey Cox

June 30, 2005|By DAN RODRICKS

A LITTLE before 9:30 yesterday morning, the bad but expected news came to those who waited for it on the West Baltimore Street Bridge, high above the gnarly river gorge where summer had ended forever for the 17-year-old named Joey Cox.

Immediately, the boy's brother and father, who had been waiting there with other kin, scrambled to a car, a white Oldsmobile Alero parked just beyond the police line.

Glen Cox Sr. had spent most of Tuesday night searching for his son, "my baby boy," and when neither he nor the Baltimore City Fire Department could find him, he went to his rowhouse on McHenry Street in Southwest Baltimore, and sat on the front steps and waited for Joey to come home. He waited until around 10:15 because that's when Joey "always turned the corner" at McHenry and Mount streets. "But he didn't turn the corner," Glen Cox Sr. said. "So I prayed that I'd come down here and find him -- hurt, pushed to the side, not dead, not gone."

The father had returned yesterday morning at daybreak to search the trash-strewn thickets and brush along the Gwynns Falls, a river where he, too, had gone swimming as a boy. Glen Sr. reached for something in the darkness and a nail poked his hand. Muddy water seeped into his sneakers.

His eldest boy, Glen Jr., joined him in the search, and his long, white T-shirt had become slashed with mud; it hung from his thin frame, heavy and damp, like a shroud. A gold crucifix remained shiny and clean on a chain around his neck.

Now the two Glen Coxes had retreated to the West Baltimore Street Bridge, a high vantage that was eerily quiet because the police had closed it to traffic. They waited there for news with other relatives of the missing teenager, whose last act on this earth was to carry two children to safety in the rising currents of the flooding Gwynns Falls. An afternoon of urban summer play -- city kids cooling off with a splash in the rocky river gorge -- had ended in a rush of water from an angry thunderstorm. The Fire Department believes Joey Cox helped get a 10-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl out of danger before losing his balance in the growling, brown water and disappearing under it.

The official search for him went on until darkness came Tuesday night. His brother and father continued theirs.

Now it was morning and getting toward 9:30, and news came to the high bridge that a body had turned up more than a mile downstream, near the Carroll Park Municipal Golf Course. As the waters receded, some hikers on the adjoining Gwynns Falls Trail had spotted a swollen, tattooed leg in a riffle below maple and sycamore trees about 50 feet beyond a wooden footbridge.

So now the Cox family packed into the Alero and zipped under the yellow police tape, away from West Baltimore Street Bridge, through the west-side streets, down Fulton Avenue to Washington Boulevard and the entrance to the golf course. The Alero came to a stop at the grassy end of a paved road that leads to the Gwynns Falls Trail. Fire Department trucks were there. A swift-water rescue unit recovered the body of Joey Cox, and quickly word of this traveled to the streets of Southwest Baltimore, and people who knew the Cox family started moving.

Within minutes, friends and relatives were coming by car and by van and by foot to the golf course and the adjoining park.

The wake in the woods had begun.

Friends and relatives wanted to share their grief near the place where the body had been found, and at no time did police or firefighters try to stop this. A dozen boys in T-shirts and tank tops and jeans, and a comparable number of girls in T-shirts, shorts, capri pants and pajama bottoms arrived. And they wept as they walked down the paved road, past the golf course and under walnut trees, until they came to the place where the immediate family had gathered.

A young girl in a red T-shirt wept so violently she lost her breath. Another looked up at her older sister, who was weeping hysterically into her T-shirt, and the little girl started crying, too. Five women stepped hastily down from an SUV and jogged to the scene. One, with a leg in a soft brace, tried to keep up. They surrounded Joey Cox's mother, Robin, and clutched each other and cried in great heaves.

More teenagers marched past the TV trucks and police cars, and at one point they seemed to be streaming into the place, as if they knew the Cox family could not afford a funeral for Joey -- his father said as much -- and that this was the time to pay respects.

"There were about 10 of us, all friends, who hung out together," said Daniel Ray, an 18-year-old from Fulton Avenue. "Joey was one."

Just then, a sandy-haired teenager in a tank top arrived and spotted Ray.

"Dude, is he dead?" the sandy-haired teen asked.

"Yeah," Ray nodded, "they got him in the ambulance." The two boys embraced. The sandy-hair started to cry.

"Joey was just about to turn 18," Ray said.

A few minutes later, when I asked Glen Cox Jr. for his younger brother's date of birth, his lips tightened and his eyes started to well. He held his T-shirt up to his face and moved away.

"Joey would have been 18 on July 10," Glen Sr. answered for his eldest son.

Glen Jr. had graduated last month from Potomac State College in Keyser, W.Va. When the Cox family provided reporters with a photograph of Joey Cox, it was one taken with his older brother, in his blue commencement gown, in front of a dogwood tree. That was just a few weeks ago. Young brothers with nothing ahead but future.

Now it was getting toward 11 o'clock and the medical examiner had come and gone, and friends and relatives started to leave the woods, the trail and the golf course. Glen Cox Jr. lingered a bit. He leaned against a white police car, his long, white T-shirt soiled from his long, sad search for his little brother, the T-shirt wet from rain, river and tears.

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