Guadalupe County – The loved ones of a woman who died while trying to save others from drowning are hoping her story and legacy encourage safety and awareness for other families.
Casandra Kendrick, 22, was honorably discharged from the U.S. Air Force before her death.
“That broke her heart,” said Makenzie Logan, her cousin. “That is all she wanted to do is to be in the Air Force, but she broke her ankle, and she couldn’t return. It was hard for her.”
“She was really passionate about the military,” said Savannah Walter, her other cousin.
Kendrick, who also went by CJ, stayed busy when she was out of the military.
“She was always working on something,” Walters said. “She would be outside working on cars. She did everything. She worked nonstop. She loved her job and all of the people she worked with at A-Z Pawn.”
When she wasn’t working, Kendrick was spending time with her family, whom she loved dearly.
“She was a beautiful soul,” said Alyssa Boe, her cousin. “She did everything for everyone. Nothing could bring her down. She was always energetic. She would always be there. Even when she was mad, she would always come and say, ‘I love you.’”
The family also joked that Kendrick was stubborn.
“She was hard-headed,” said Ripley Estep, her sister, with a laugh. “She was always right about everything. Even when we were mad at each other, we would always come to her if we had a question about anything, and she would always be right.”
The family also said Kendrick always wanted to be a mother.
“She loved kids,” said Sarah Hammack, her sister. “She wanted a family of her own. She was an old soul in a young body, and it was awesome to have her here and have that time with her.”
Kendrick loved to swim and hang out with her family and friends.
They would all visit the Guadalupe River for fun for several years, but Sunday, Kendrick made the ultimate sacrifice.
“There was this man with his three children,” Hammack said. “There was this current, and one of the boys began to float away, and when he looked back, it began to pull the other two away.”
The entire family, including Kendrick, stepped in to help save the father and his children.
The father was Victor Villanueva.
Villanueva was able to pass his last child off to Kendrick, who then passed him off to her family.
“She gave the child to my aunt, and they went down,” Hammack said through tears. “That was it. They were gone. It is hard not being able to do anything. We reached out to try to pull her in, but we didn’t know what direction to do. He worked hard to keep that baby up, had that baby right above her head, and I didn’t even see her take air. That is when I was scared.”
The family is devastated their rock is no longer alive.
“It is real, but then you go home and expect her to walk in and say, ‘What are you all doing? Why are you all sad? Cheer up,’” said Boe.
The family came back to the river the next day after Kendrick’s body was recovered and offered their condolences to the family of Villanueva.
“He was a hero too,” Logan said. “He put his babies’ lives before his. When he knew his kids were good, he was gone. He let go.”
For the last time, the family returned to the river Tuesday afternoon to release flowers in the very spot Kendrick took her last breath.
“If she had a message for others, it would be, ‘If you can do it, do it,” Estep said. “We are on borrowed time.”
“‘Don’t be so sad,’” said Walters. “That is one of the last things she told me.”
“Her motto was to live life to the fullest,” Hammack said. “She has not left us. I can feel her spirit through us as we push through this.”
“No matter how bad it is, she would want us to stay together and to keep pushing,” Boe said. “Yesterday, it was raining, and there were two rainbows. Even in the bad weather, I think that was her letting us know she is happy.”
The family is raising funds to afford funeral expenses.
They are hoping Kendrick’s story encourages others to be extra careful and vigilant when it comes to swimming in the Guadalupe River.
“We have been coming here for years, and something like this happened to us, and we know the river,” Logan said. “It happened to us. It can happen to anybody, and it is not fun.”