Community mourns loss of friend after drowning

A memorial of flowers and notes is growing outside the Mi Hacienda restaurant in Coeburn, honoring Hector Mercado Perez. (WCYB/Caleb Perhne)

Coeburn is devastated after a 24-year-old drowned in Douglas Lake near Dandridge on Wednesday. “Fly high, Hector” was the message of a community mourning the loss of a friend.

"It was just like the whole family are my family now,” Kay Lawson said. “This just really devastated my family."

Hector mercado perez was swimming from a boat in Douglas Lake when he began to struggle and went under.

A growing memorial outside the Mexican restaurant his family owns honors his life, the life of a man who had touched so many in the few months since he moved to the area.

Reading some of the messages left here really give you a sense of what Hector meant to this community.

"You were such an amazing and sweet soul. We wish you were still here.”

“My Amigo, your gracious manners and your infectious smile made everyone around you at ease."

"Hector was one of those rare people that whenever you saw him, the whole room lit up,” Coeburn Mayor Jeff Kiser said.

He was active in the community, bringing that positivity with him to high school ball games and to his church. He even helped start a worship service for those who speak Spanish.

"It started two and a half weeks ago,” Freedom of Worship Church Pastor Robert Fultz said of the service. “Literally, on June 24, we had our very first service. It had just gotten started."

As people brought flowers and wrote messages for Hector and his family, most said they were too emotional to talk on camera, but those who did said he has left a legacy in the community.

"He was an angel,” Lawson said. “There are just some people that you meet in your life that really touch your heart that you'll never forget."

Hector’s body has not been recovered. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is at Douglas Lake with sonar equipment continuing the search.

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