Francesca Landi choked back tears as she talked about 3-year-old Alex Cozzo, who lived temporarily in Largo.
A longtime friend of the Cozzo family from New Jersey, Landi now lives in FishHawk Ranch and was looking forward to helping her friends settle into their new home in Clearwater.
"They were following their dreams," said Landi of Joe and Bonnie Cozzo and their three children, Alex, Abigail, 2, and Ethan, 5. "They'd just moved here from New Jersey and were looking forward to a whole new start. Their Ryder truck was still packed with all of their belongings."
The Cozzos were staying with friends in Largo, preparing to move into their rented home in Clearwater on March 8, when Joe Cozzo noticed his middle child wasn't playing with his siblings. He began searching for little Alex.
"Alex was no where to be found," said Landi. "Everyone on the cul de sac began to look for him."
That's when Joe Cozzo made a horrific discovery. Little Alex . A former emergency medical technician, Cozzo began to perform CPR on his son until the paramedics arrived.
Although he may have been in the water for as long as 10 minutes, they were able to resuscitate the little boy. They transferred him to Largo Medical Center and then to All Children's Hospital, where he remains in a coma.
"It's just so sad," said Landi. "Joe is a disc jockey, and Alex was like his clone. He loved to put on the headphones and spin records and sing. The family is just devastated."
Landi noted that this tragedy comes on the heels of several others suffered by the family. Joe Cozzo's mother and brother recently died followed by the family dog.
"This family's had nothing but grief lately, and now this," said Landi.
Not knowing what else to do for the family, Landi began posting pleas for prayers on Facebook. Among those who promptly responded was FishHawk resident Kelly Rowjohn.
Rowjohn had organized meals and donations for her neighbors, the Watson family, . Following that experience, , to help other residents in need.
Rowjohn saw this crisis as another chance for the Friends of FishHawk to help.
"They are new to the area and have no one to help them," she said.
"Kelly immediately organized the prayer vigil and fundraiser for the family," said Landi, who was scheduled for surgery this week but postponed it so she could come to the aid of her friends, the Cozzos. "Hours after she responded to my Facebook message, she was meeting with the family, determining what she could do for them."
"Alex is such a little angel," said FishHawk resident Mags Oldman, who has joined the effort to help the family. "I know we can help them. I've lived here for 10 years, and I've never seen a community come together the way this one does."
The residents gathered at the March 16 vigil in Park Square lit candles and said prayers for the Cozzo family, led by Andrea Deward of LifeSpring Church in FishHawk and Father Jose George of St. Stephen Catholic Church in Valrico.
"We have people all over the country praying for this family," said Oldman, who put together a slide show featuring photos of little Alex.
In between prayers, residents dropped donations into a bottle for the family to help offset expenses.
There was also some good news to report at the vigil. Earlier that day, Alex had some movement in one eye and reacted to pain, said Landi.
"It's a small sign, but it's a good sign," she said.
With Rowjohn's help, Landi is in the process of setting up a trust fund for donations to the family.
"They have no insurance and, right now, Joe isn't working," she said. "I'd like to be able to raise enough to rent a home here in FishHawk for them and really help this young family start all over again."
In the meantime, Landi said the family needs everyone's prayers. "We don't know what the prognosis for Alex is so we need every prayer we can get. Alex might not be here today but, when he gets better, I'm going to bring him to Park Square so he can play in the fountains with the other kids."
Residents can keep track of Alex's progress through the Friends of FishHawk Facebook page. To help, residents can contact Rowjohn at 813-655-9985 or 813-391-4745.