CLEVELAND — After two months of searching for Nathan Orona that resulted in unimaginable heartbreak, and for the first time since his body was found in Lake Erie, his mother and his two aunts expressed their grief in a devastatingly emotional news conference organized by his family Friday.
Those who were lucky enough to know Orona described him as a kind-hearted man who cared for everyone in his life, particularly his family, his number one priority.
“I miss him dearly and I will always remember him. I’m in disbelief but I know he is in a better place and this is really hard… but I can’t do this,” said his mother Evelyn Orona, who was still consumed with grief after receiving the news that her son’s body was found in Lake Erie on Sunday.
His Aunt Waleska Soto said Nathan had a contagious smile whose conversations and personality would “light up a room.”
“He would always have conversations with, as you can see behind me, we are a big family,” said Soto.”And it would always be, 'I love you.' You have to say that I love you to him. That was something that he loved to say. Some people have a hard time expressing that; he didn't have a hard time expressing or saying, 'I love you.'”
Soto said since Nathan was someone who was always communicating with his family, she said the family knew immediately something wasn’t right.
“I’m going to miss his presence. I am going to miss his smile. I am going to miss his dance moves, his jokes, his smell, his hugs. We are such a close family. We are really tight. This is a big hole in all of our hearts," she said.
Nathan, whose name means “Gift of God,” was that and more to his family during this short 20 years of life, they said.
“He was the best gift we've ever had. He won't be forgotten,” Soto said.
Loved by and missed by many, the family said Nathan's absence left a hole in everyone's hearts that can't be filled.
“We all love him so much. He had an army behind him and he still actually look at us, still has the army behind him and. And we just love you, Nathan. I love you so much. And I wish I can hug you one last time,” said Jennifer Sanabria, one of his aunts who spoke at the news conference.
Reflecting on the day she last heard from her son, who left his home on Feb. 1, Evelyn said it was just a regular night and it wasn’t until she woke up the next morning that she knew something was wrong.
“That's when the suspicions started blowing. And I knew in my heart that something was wrong. And I deep down knew that it wasn't right, it wasn't common of him not to call me, not to get in touch. And there was no way that he was okay,” she said.
Nathan and Alaina Camacho, the 18-year-old girl who went missing and was also later found in Lake Erie, were good friends who knew each other from school, the family said.
Day after day for nearly two months, when day turned to nightfall, the mystery of where her son went was unbearable, a reminder that he wasn't home safe.
“Every day, especially when the night will fall. That's where I will basically break down because, for some reason, I had a feeling that he wasn't coming home,” said Evelyn, who described her son as someone who couldn’t even go 24 hours without contacting her.
When asked what questions remain, Evelyn said she has no more questions about her son’s death.
“To be honest with you, I don't have any questions. I don't have questions because, obviously, it was a tragic accident. That's the way I see it. And, you know, I just want them [Nathan and Alaina] to rest in peace,” Evelyn said.
Nathan was described as a fighter and to his family, and they believe he fought to the end. On Sunday, a fisherman who was fishing off a pier east of the Hot Waters boat launch observed what appeared to be a body floating in the lake. Authorities removed the body from the water and confirmed it to be Nathan.
Investigators said Tuesday they believe the deaths of two friends found in Lake Erie were the result of an accident.
“There’s no doubt in my mind. He was fighting. He came up to the surface and told us I’m here. He fought because he knew we weren’t going to quit,” said Soto.
Evelyn said the close relationship she had with her son was difficult to put into words.
"We were really close...our relationship was beyond words, and my son was my fighter, he was my protector. I believe that he did, that he was trying to fight, he was fighting and so he could no more, but he is a fighter. He's very strong. He would never have given up on myself and his little brother," she said.
It was the family’s faith that got them through his unimaginable tragedy and will continue to through the days and weeks to come.
"He's [God] been the one that has been holding my family together at this point in time. So we're grateful for Him," Evelyn said.
Alaina Camacho's body, gold car pulled from Lake Erie
Download the News 5 Cleveland app now for more stories from us, plus alerts on major news, the latest weather forecast, traffic information and much more. Download now on your Apple device here, and your Android device here.