CAMBRIDGE -- They came from Virginia, New Jersey and as far away as Hawaii yesterday to prepare to bury two young boys - 8-year-old Jarris Robinson, who fell through the ice on a neighborhood pond Sunday afternoon, and his brother Aaron, 12, who died trying to save him.
Relatives and friends gathered inside the red-brick house with Jenise Robinson, who had warned her sons not to climb the fence around the pond. Neighbors and schoolmates, struggling with disbelief, spoke of two vibrant, energetic kids. Rescue crew members who tried to save them reviewed every tactic, trying to reassure themselves that they'd done all that was possible in the frantic minutes after help was summoned.
Sgt. Andre Perez - a father himself - was one of three Cambridge police who were first to answer the 911 call that came at 3:38 p.m. He said the officers plunged into the icy pond about a block and a half from the Robinson home in a desperate attempt to find the boys.
"We dropped our gun belts and stripped down ... and we all just went into the water," said Perez, a 14-year veteran of the force. "We were breaking ice and we went as far as we could, up to our necks. Every step was muddy, and we couldn't see the boys, we couldn't find them," he said. "Somebody said the boys might have gone in on the other side of the pond, so we tried that side, too."
He said the three officers, along with a Dorchester County sheriff's deputy, cast about in the murky water, hoping to find and grasp a leg or an arm or a jacket and pull the boys to the surface.
Sometime after the search was taken over by a team of divers, Perez said, he realized that his 13-year-old son was a seventh-grade classmate of Aaron Robinson's at Mace's Land Middle School.
"Here I have a son the same age, in the same class, from the same school," said Perez. "That's when you think that it could have been yours. But still, you have to know that all you can do is try. That's all you can do."
Three children who had been riding their bikes with the Robinson boys told rescuers that Jarris had climbed the 5-foot-high fence around the pond, according to Lt. Wayne Bromwell, a Cambridge police spokesman. It is one of three fenced storm water ponds in the community.
After Fire Department divers pulled the boys from the water, rescue crews and then staff members at Dorchester General Hospital worked for more than two hours to revive them. The brothers were declared dead about 6 p.m. Sunday.
The Robinsons and those closest to them sequestered themselves yesterday inside the family home and posted a handwritten note on the front door, asking reporters to refrain from seeking interviews "to assist the family with the grief."
The Rev. Randall Blackmon, pastor of First Baptist Fellowship in Cambridge, has lived next door to the Robinsons for three years. His daughter Gracie, 17, is a classmate of Sasha Robinson, the boys' elder sister.
"These boys were so polite and well-mannered, but they were real boys," Blackmon said. "We had a trampoline in our yard that we gave them, and they were just acrobats on it. They loved it."
He said the boys' father, Jerome Robinson, has been stationed in Hawaii with the Army and flew home upon receiving the news.
Curtis Pfeffer, who works as a professional firefighter in Howard County and volunteers in the local fire and ambulance company, has lived across the street from the Robinsons for three years, since both families were among the first to move into the trim new development in this fast-growing Eastern Shore city of about 12,000.
"My wife and I went to the movies Sunday afternoon, so I turned off my pager," Pfeffer said. "Maybe if I'd been here or had that pager on. ... It's tragic, but it's just kids being kids."
He stood gazing at yellow crime scene tape that marked the place where the boys had climbed the fence. "We had a rough night here, the whole neighborhood," he said.
At Sandy Hill Elementary yesterday, school counselors and Principal Susie Price talked to each class, pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, at the 420- student school.
"I know that some of the students are heartbroken, and certainly many of our staff are feeling that grief, too," Price said. "This is something that's happened to our babies. That's the way we feel. This has been a very long morning, and it will be that way as we go through this."