Firefighters in New York City have started a crowdfunding page to try to bring some of their department members to the funeral of a 5-year-old Converse boy who lost his battle to cancer.
In 2014, River Laurence was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer. Several tumors grew into a large tumor in his abdomen and wrapped around a major artery. Doctors did their best to try and remove most of the tumor.
“For River, it was all of the side effects, all the treatments that we did to save him,” said Josceyln Laurence, River’s mother. “The last time we saw his doctor before he passed, he said every road would have led to this. We did everything that we could.”
Laurence said that on Wednesday, the night before he died, he talked about his friend, 3-year-old Trucker Dukes from Maui, who also had neuroblastoma but lost his battle against the disease. They met in New York City while undergoing treatment for neuroblastoma.
“[River] was sitting here and he had a far-away look and I said, ‘What are you thinking about, baby?‘ And he said, ‘I've been thinking about Trucker,’” Laurence recalled. “I didn't know if he meant seeing Trucker in a couple of days meant he didn't understand the concept of time, ‘cause it's been almost a year since he had seen Trucker or if maybe he had been seeing Trucker and dreaming about Trucker.”
On Thursday, Laurence said that she let Converse firefighters know about River’s death and, soon after, firefighters from Universal City and Kirby came to their home to take River’s body to a funeral home.
She said that she did not expect the procession.
Converse firefighters had developed a special bond with River ever since they visited his blood drive a few years ago. They would often invite River to the fire house to spend time with him. His mother said that River had decided he wanted to become a firefighter when he grew up.
In November of 2016, the Converse Fire Department made him a honorary firefighter. The City of Converse also dedicated a day in his honor. His mother said that the firefighters promised her that her family would not be alone if River ever passed.
They kept their promise.
“It feels like as soon as everybody got that call, they were coming over and, like I said, off-duty guys came and guys who were on-duty came,” she said. “I don't feel like I had to do that alone. I feel like we didn't have to do it alone. We had the support of everybody who loved him to come with us to leave him there.”
FDNY firefighters are also hoping to honor River in their own way. Pete Calderaro, who serves with FDNY, grew close to River and said that several of the other firefighters did as well when River visited New York City for treatment.
Calderaro started a GoFundMe page to help NYC firefighters fly to Converse for River’s funeral. In a phone interview, he said that he hopes the community will help FDNY say goodbye to their little brother.
“We just want to make this as special as River's life was for the five years he was here, for his family. So, whatever anybody can do to help offset some of the costs for the people that he loved and who loved him back,” Calderaro said.
“There are so many people in New York who love him too. They need closure with him too. He touched so many people,” Laurence said. “River is a firefighter in Converse, in New York, but it doesn't matter what city it is. He's always going to have that bond. He's the littlest firefighter.”
River's funeral will be held at the Garden Ridge Community center July 2 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
His mother says that it will be open to the public. If you would like to help bring FDNY firefighters to the funeral, the GoFundMe page is here.