The 21-year-old man found dead in a Redwood City swimming pool last week was a loving son and brother who always gave without reserve, family members said.
Gabriel Estrada, who lived in East Palo Alto until last December and then moved with his family to Redwood City, had gone missing since Oct. 9 after apparently leaving home for a late night stroll. Last Thursday a maintenance worker found Estrada's partially decomposed body beneath the cover of a swimming pool at Hoover Park after neighbors complained of a foul smell in the area.
"He definitely gave a lot to this family," sister Angelica Estrada, 26, told the Weekly in an interview Wednesday. "He was very caring about all of us."
Angelica said Estrada was always the first to help his family, whether it was babysitting, or moving homes or anything else they needed. He shared a close bond with all his siblings, including his 6-year-old brother with whom he would wrestle.
"When I had problems, I'd go to him," his younger sister Vanessa Santos said. "He was always there. If I needed someone to talk to, he'd be right there."
Older brother Victor Estrada, 27, recalled how Estrada got him a job at Best Buy when he was unemployed several years ago.
Estrada had a sense of humor and always drew laughs whenever the family got together for dinner, Angelica said.
He loved music and went everywhere with his iPod. Estrada also wrote lyrics and recorded several rap songs, family members said.
Born at Kaiser Hospital in Redwood City, Estrada spent his early years in San Carlos before his family moved to East Palo Alto. They relocated to the Friendly Acres neighborhood in Redwood City last December.
After graduating from Sequoia High School in 2006, Estrada expressed interest in becoming a firefighter or joining the Marine Corps, Angelica said. He most recently applied to Job Corps in Utah, in order to become a certified nurse.
"He wanted to be in a field where he could help other people or help his country," Angelica said.
Estrada was a very giving person since young, and he donated blood twice a year, she said.
The mysterious circumstances surrounding Estrada's death have baffled his family. Redwood City police Capt. Ron Matuszak said Estrada was found under the plastic cover near the edge of the pool "as if he had just stepped in." The pool, located at Woodside Road and Spring Street, had been closed since July, Matuszak said.
Matuszak said Estrada suffered from mental-health issues. While impossible to determine whether his death was a suicide, investigators ruled out the involvement of criminal activity, Matuszak said.
Estrada's family declined to comment on his mental health, but they do not believe he left home on Oct. 9 with any intention of taking his life. His death was either an accident or homicide, Victor said.
Estrada, an organized person, would fastidiously tidy his bed every morning before he left home. He left his bed in a mess that night, which indicated he had meant to return, Angelica said. She said Estrada enjoyed taking late night strolls and had no enemies.
Estrada was also a dedicated writer who penned a book and kept both a handwritten daily journal and one on the computer. A person who expressed his thoughts in words, Estrada would have written a goodbye or a "final chapter" of his life before he died, Victor said.
After Estrada went missing, family members sifted through his belongings but found no hints of might have happened. They filed a missing person report and posted fliers but never heard back till last Thursday, Nov. 5 -- the day his body was found.
Angelica said she planned to go door-to-door searching for Estrada that day. Someone sent her a text two weeks ago claiming to have seen Estrada looking lost and wandering down the street he lived on, she said.
But when her cousin called Thursday evening asking Angelica to go to the swimming pool, she feared the worst.
"I just knew then that it was my brother," she said.
"It was surreal," said Victor, whose eyes grew moist as he remembered how Estrada had been his best man at his wedding in Venezuela.
Family members say they have not heard from investigators since then. Redwood City police Sgt. Dan Mulholland said police have ceased investigations and are waiting for the coroner's report, which might take four to six weeks to complete.
As the holiday season nears, Angelica said her family started a tradition four years ago of gathering at her home every Thanksgiving.
"Gabriel didn't miss one time," Angelica said. "It's going to be tough this year without him here."
Estrada's memorial will be held at Redwood Chapel in Redwood City from noon to 7 p.m. today (Thursday).
On Friday, his family will gather at 9 a.m. in Redwood Chapel and move to Our Lady of Mt Carmel Church in Redwood City at 10 a.m. before driving to the cemetery in Skylawn Memorial Park.