Two women watched from the dock Sunday as the bereaved bobbed in seven boats on the Potomac River and sprinkled flowers on the water where rowing coach John Steve Catilo -- son, brother, cousin and nephew -- had drowned. When the small, sad fleet returned, they enveloped Catilo's family in hugs.
One of the women was Debbie Wells, president of the Alexandria Crew Boosters and mother of two rowers. The other was Tracy Hollingsworth, whose son, Schuyler Jones, rowed for the T.C. Williams High School crew before he was killed last year.
Brought together by a sport that depends on precise teamwork -- "the ultimate team sport," as Wells described it -- they spent the next several days working with other rowers and friends to organize more tangible support for the Catilos, from the endless supply of coffee and casseroles at the family home to the reception after yesterday's funeral Mass.
As many as 600 people came to Queen of Apostles Catholic Church in Alexandria to mourn and celebrate Catilo, 20, who tumbled out of a motor launch as he coached novice rowers last Friday. The pews were filled with the particular pain of young men and women who had lost someone their age, of parents who had outlived a child.
"It's a double blow. It rekindled a lot of sad feelings," said Alexandria police detective Dana Lawhorne, father of three girls, two on the T.C. Williams crew. His eldest daughter, Megan, dated Jones, who was beaten to death by other teenagers; his middle daughter, Christina, was coached by Catilo two summers ago. "They are two different things, but anytime a young person dies, it scares you."
Like so many former members of the T.C. Williams crew, Catilo continued his commitment to rowing after he graduated, returning to the Old Town boathouse each year to coach novice and seasoned rowers alike for the summer programs put on by the boosters. Rowing, they say, teaches them to hone in on each other's strengths to create the fastest, smoothest crew.
"You cannot do well unless you are in harmony with others," Wells said. "It builds a close community" -- and not just on the water.
The boosters held Maria Aurora Catilo's hand during the search for her son and shielded her family from the media with white sheets. They took turns visiting and cooking for the Catilos. Then they helped the church with plans for a memorial service and the funeral. After yesterday's Mass, they held a reception in the church basement, loading a table with sandwiches, fried chicken, spinach pies, cakes, cookies and brownies, among other foods.
The outpouring overwhelmed Alejandro and Maria Aurora Catilo, who said this week that they never really became involved in the boosters or even understood crew, though John Steve was their second child to embrace it, following his older brother, Paolo, into the sport.
"We're immigrants. We could not understand or afford all those things," Maria Aurora Catilo, who emigrated from the Philippines in 1986, said in an interview this week. "I gave them my sons. I didn't give them my time."
Alejandro Catilo, a home improvement contractor, said he hopes that his son's accident will not deter children from taking up the sport. "His death should in no way discourage kids to join," he said. "It should inspire them."
The couple said they hope novice rowers now will be accompanied by a minimum of two coaches wearing life vests. John Steve Catilo was alone and without a vest when he fell out of the motor launch he was steering alongside a shell being rowed by a group of teenagers.
His death continues to puzzle friends and family members, who say he was robust, athletic, a good swimmer. He loved the water so much that he told his father he wanted to buy a house on the waterfront. "He told me that if he lives in a land-locked place, he feels like he'll be choking," Alejandro recalled.
Besides crew, John Steve boasted the eclectic resume of a "renaissance boy," his mother said. She said he kept telling her he wanted to make a difference in the world and be a doctor.
At the University of Virginia, where he would have been a senior in the fall, he was active in the fraternity Phi Delta Theta, the karate club and the Organization of Young Filipino Americans. In the summers, he volunteered at Inova Alexandria Hospital and was often at the Van Dorn Metro station, collecting money for causes from Greenpeace to the National World War II Memorial. He also helped his father with his contracting business.
This summer, John Steve was cramming for the medical school entrance exam; the test preparation books lay strewed across his bed this week in a room decorated with artifacts from around the world, posters of bikini-clad women and a portrait of his grandfather. An application for the Peace Corps arrived at the Catilos' home in Alexandria on Tuesday.
John Steve, who was 3 when his family emigrated from Manila and never returned, was fiercely proud of his Filipino heritage, displaying the country's flag on his bookbag and taking part in dances and cultural events in college.
Schuyler Jones's father, Harry, was among the 500 mourners who attended Wednesday night's memorial service. During a prayer recitation that night and again yesterday morning, a list of relatives who had preceded John Steve in death was read -- and Schuyler Jones's name was added at the end. On the funeral program, the family chose to display a photo that did not show John Steve's signature toothy smile.
Instead, his back is to the camera, and in his right hand, he clasps a wire cross stuck into the sand of a beach in the Dominican Republic, where he spent this year's spring break volunteering at an orphanage.
"Who poses like that?" his mother asked. "It's like he's saying goodbye to the world. It's so prophetic, because he's looking at the ocean. It's like his journey home."