A laugh that could fill up a room: Perry High School mourns senior who drowned the weekend before graduation

Allison Ullmann
Perry Chief

Perry High School senior Melanie Gonzalez is being remembered for her laugh.

“Her laughter would fill the room,” fellow senior Neli Rios said while fighting tears. “I think that’s what I’m going to miss about her the most, her laughter.”

Gonzalez, 18, died over the weekend in a drowning accident, the school announced Saturday afternoon on its Facebook page. 

Principal Dan Marburger said counselors were on hand Monday to talk to students and staff. 

A memorial sign put on the gates of Dewey Field was later replaced by a new tribute: A rock on the corner of the high school parking lot painted with Melanie’s name. Flowers, teddy bears wearing 2021 graduation caps and more were placed  around it on Monday afternoon.

“It was amazing to see all of the support that we got and most importantly that she got,” sophomore Jefry Gonzalez said of his sister. “I probably never knew how many friends Melanie had until about now, the smile she put on people’s faces.” 

A rock is painted in honor of Perry High School senior Melanie Gonzalez, who died over the weekend.

Support also poured in from nearby schools. The Dallas Center-Grimes, ADM and Ballard districts all offered additional counselors. The Atlantic girls soccer team planned to have a moment of silence before hosting the Jayettes on Tuesday. 

Senior Jayson Chavez said Melanie had a great smile and attitude. 

“She was under the radar but once you went up to talk to her she was one of the most outgoing persons in the world,” Chavez said.

Melanie’s cousin, Alexa Garcia, added that she was a very caring person who always helped other people. 

“I think she really treated everyone like they were family,” said Garcia, a freshman.

“I think the people that did get to know her were lucky because of the person that she was,” Rios said.

Her brother has different memories as he got to see Melanie’s goofier side while they were growing up.

“Birthdays, I was always the one to push her into the cake. I think it’s memories like that that I thought were just stupid things we would always do for each other. And I’ll always remember,” Jefry said.

He encourages her friends to come show their support during a visitation from 5-8 p.m. on Wednesday at the Perry High School gym.

The community is also welcome during a candlelight vigil at 8 p.m. on Friday at Dewey Field. Attendees are encouraged to bring a candle.

Melanie will also be honored during Sunday’s graduation ceremony. Jefry said his sister worked hard to finish a paper and wrap up her PE credits to meet the graduation requirements. 

Some of the graduation teddy bears decorating the base of the memorial for Perry High School senior Melanie Gonzalez, who died over the weekend. Gonzalez was set to graduate on Sunday, May 30.

“She was so excited to tell us that ‘I did it, mom, I graduated, I worked my tail off these last four years.’ She was super excited to graduate,” Jefry said. “She never quit, that was the amazing thing.”

Marburger said an open chair will be left with Melanie’s cap, gown and diploma during the  ceremony at Dewey Field. Chavez added that the class plans to either honor her with a balloon release if the ceremony is outside or with purple ribbons on their gowns if it’s moved inside.

“I just hope that we can all stay positive and move forward and just keep a smile on our faces for her because I know she’ll be looking down on us and watching over us,” Chavez said.

Water safety tips

  • Iowa DNR spokesman Alex Murphy said previously people should not overestimate their swimming abilities. And as difficult as it might be, he said, people should not swim out to save someone unless they are a trained professional.
  • When leaving a group, Murphy recommended people should tell others where they are going.
  • In the case of a near-drowning, call 911 right away, look for a life preserver that could be thrown to the individual and find someone who knows CPR.
  • When children are present, parents need to keep a close eye on their whereabouts.
  • Iowa law requires that, while on a boat, everyone must have a life jacket and those under 13 need to wear a life jacket at all times.
  • The American Red Cross cautions to always swim with a buddy, even at a pool or beach with lifeguards, and to avoid alcohol use around water.