Family, friends mourn Toronto woman who died while trying to save boyfriend from drowning

A celebration of life is being on Saturday for a Toronto woman who died in December while trying to save her boyfriend from drowning on a Cuban vacation.

Memorial for Rochelle Melissa de Torres, 23, coincides with what would have been her 24th birthday

Rochelle Melissa de Torres, 23, died on Dec. 13, 2017 while trying to save her boyfriend from drowning in Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba. (Supplied)

A celebration of life is being held on Saturday for a Toronto woman who died in December while trying to save her boyfriend from drowning in Cuba.

The event for Rochelle Melissa de Torres, 23, coincides with what would have been her 24th birthday.

"She was a beautiful person," says Michael Reid, the older brother of Adam Reid, her boyfriend of seven years. "I've never met anyone with as open a heart as her."

Michael Reid says family members are upset that she was cremated, against her mother's wishes. Both families blame Global Affairs Canada for not arranging to have the body embalmed, as requested, even though the federal department received payment of about $9,000 to do so.

Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Brendan Sutton told CBC Toronto in an emailed statement that the organization's "thoughts" are with de Torres' family and friends but it cannot comment further to protect her privacy. 

Reid says de Torres was in Cayo Santa Maria, an island off the northern coast of Cuba, with his younger brother when the two ventured off the resort of Golden Tulip Aguias Claras for a view of the coastline on Dec. 13, 2017. 
Rochelle Melissa de Torres was artistic, attended OCAD University briefly, and delved into such art forms as photography, visual art and music. Her dream was to become a tattoo artist. (GoFundMe.com)

The couple found a rocky outcrop for some "alone time" but Reid, while sitting on some rocks and enjoying the crash of waves, was pulled into the water. De Torres, who was filming with her smartphone, scrambled after him to try to save him. They got separated in the waves.

While Reid was rescued by passersby about 40 minutes later, the body of de Torres washed up on the shoreline two days later. Reid, traumatized by the experience, suffered deep cuts and bruises. 

"It's a devastating loss. She was really selfless and brave right until the end," Michael Reid says. 

"I can't overstate how beautiful a person she was, inside and out. She was young, she was in love. There was every indication that Adam was going to propose to her on this trip. He wanted to have children with her. And she was 23 years old," he said.

"She never said no to anyone. She was always so friendly, never had any kind of resentments with anyone. And that's saying a lot, especially given her age and our generation." 
Adam Reid, left, and Rochelle Melissa de Torres, right, were in Cuba on a couples vacation when she died. (Supplied)

De Torres was artistic, attended OCAD University briefly, and delved into such art forms as photography, visual art and music. Her dream was to become a tattoo artist, Reid said.

"She always had this kind of unique vision." 

De Torres attended Jean Vanier Catholic Secondary School in Scarborough and starred in a high school musical.

Reid said her mother, Agnes de Torres, and his mother, Mary Reid, travelled to Cuba after she died and his mother identified the body, which had been laid at the base of a pier in an aquarium for dolphins. 

Flashlights were used because it was dark. His mother was able to identify the body because of her tattoos.

Immediate plans were made to have the body embalmed, he said. Air Transat advised members of both families to go through Global Affairs Canada for the embalming. Mary Reid transferred about $9,000 to the federal department. 
Adam Reid, left, and Rochelle Melissa de Torres, right. Reid's brother Michael says: 'I can't overstate how beautiful a person she was, inside and out. She was young, she was in love.' (Supplied)

"As far as we knew, everything was proceeding as planned. It was only on Monday that we received a nasty shock that she had been cremated without our consent."

Family members were told that she was cremated on Dec. 18, but the paperwork says it was done on Dec. 21. Reid has not yet been refunded the money. De Torres's passport and personal effects have not been returned, although her cremated remains have been sent home.

A funeral was held on Tuesday for de Torres at St. Rose of Lima Parish in Scarborough and a memorial mass was held at the same church on Saturday morning.

The celebration of life runs until 3 p.m. at the Kennedy Convention Centre.

A Gofundme page has been set up to offset funeral costs to and to provide support to her mother.  

With files from Perry Newsome