Twelve-year-old Luz Rodriguez knows that her older sister was very special.
Alina Rodriguez, 13, died saving her.
The two sisters were at a family picnic Monday afternoon in Cazenovia Park when they went into the creek to cool off.
Luz might have drowned if it hadn't been for Alina's swift and selfless actions, according to her relatives.
"Luz thought she wasn't going to make it, but Alina pushed her to the shore," said 15-year-old Khadesh Rodriguez, another sister. "Luz told me she feels proud of Alina."
Too heartbroken to speak, Luz stood quietly by as Khadesh and other family members and friends gathered outside their Lower West Side apartment Wednesday afternoon to praise Alina's bravery and hail her as a "young princess."
"My daughter is a hero not only to her family, but to her school and the community," Roberto Rodriguez said.
Alina attended School 33, Bilingual Center.
The family also expressed gratitude to Christian Gonzalez, the man authorities say jumped into the creek and tried to save Alina.
First responders managed to revive Alina, and she was rushed to Mercy Hospital in critical condition and later transferred to Women & Children's Hospital, where she died Tuesday.
"He was a stranger, and we would like to say thanks to him," Khadesh said of Gonzalez.
The third-oldest of five children, Alina arrived in Buffalo with her family four years ago from Puerto Rico in search of a better life.
"Alina was born in Brooklyn, but we moved to Puerto Rico, where she was raised before we came to Buffalo," Khadesh said.
The arrival of summer had meant an upcoming trip to visit relatives in New York City, the older sister said.
But Alina wanted to spend some time with her boyfriend before leaving.
"Alina told me she wanted to go out to the movies with her boyfriend. She wanted to see him before we were supposed to go to New York," Khadesh said, tears filling her eyes.
Now the family is bracing to say a final goodbye to Alina. The wake will be held from 2 to 9 p.m. today in Lombardo Funeral Home, 102 Linwood Ave., and 9 a.m. to noon Friday. The funeral service will begin there at noon Friday.
As Michelle Santiago, an aunt, discussed the arrangements, Alina's father noticed the pain in young Luz's face.
He bent down beside her, kissed her on the cheek and told her how much he loved her.
Over at Cazenovia Park on Wednesday, workers installed signs in English and Spanish warning people not to swim in the creek.
"Seven signs went up on both sides of the creek," said South District Police Chief Patrick M. Pascall, who estimated that the water where the drowning occurred was several feet deep.
"The problem is the creek bed is slate, and the kids lose their footing. It's slippery," Pascall said.
Acknowledging that a flowing waterway presents a great temptation to children looking to take a dip on warm summer days, the chief said that nearby public sprinklers are the safer way to cool off.
"The sad part about this is that there were still kids playing in the creek with their parents watching them as rescuers were working on her," Pascall said.
The chief said he directed his officers to clear the creek of swimmers, but he says he worries that the lure of water will draw other youngsters.
The Rev. Angel L. Gauthier, senior pastor of Prince of Peace Christian Church, is assisting the Rodriguez family in making an appeal for donations to cover the cost of Alina's funeral.
Donations can be sent to Prince of Peace Christian Church, P.O. Box 932, Buffalo, NY 14205. Checks should be made out to "For Alina Anais Rodriguez Funeral."
"The family is in desperate need," Gauthier said. "Alina was not only a hero, but she was a tremendous young princess."