WINTER HAVEN, Fla. - There were no hot dogs or pies in an eating contest on the Polk State College campus in Winter Haven. "Peanut Butter and Nutella -- we've been making them all morning," says one student.
With each sandwich eaten, the families of three fellow Polk State College students will benefit from pledges and donations. "That was their favorite sandwich, and in honor of them, we are eating peanut butter and Nutella," says one of 22 students getting ready to participate in the eating contest on the front lawn across from the student center.
It was one of the favorite hangout places for three 19-year-old students and best friends since childhood who, police say, were gunned down last week. Christian Rodriguez and Joe Palacios died. Esteban Zavala is recovering at Lakeland Regional Medical Center. Police say 32-year-old Joshua Davis shot the men in his apartment while his 6-year-old daughter hid underneath a table.
Police say Davis confessed to the shootings.
"This one is for you, Joe," says Hung Nguyen, a friend of the victims, as he holds up his third sandwich.
Alfredo Sandoval, also a close friend of the three students, says, "They were friends that can never be replaced. They were very caring, humble, smart guys."
The goal for Hung Nguyen is 10 sandwiches. Will he make it? Everyone else tries to keep up. Some use water to wash down the sandwiches, others use milk to dunk the sandwiches and help them swallow easier.
As for taste, they may have a winning combination.
"Heaven," says Hung. "The new Reese's."
Hung is cheered on as he takes that last bite of sandwich number 10.
Students expected to raise $300-400, but raised about three times that amount: $1,111. Twenty-two students participated and all together ate 106 peanut butter and Nutella sandwiches.
Juan Martinez says he's proud of his classmates. "Amazing, knowing our family is still together. They may be gone, [but] we stand strong behind them."
Students say this is the first of many fundraisers, but the next event will be one of prayer and remembrance. The students will hold a candlelight vigil this Thursday at 8:30 p.m. right on the front lawn of the student center. They will remember their friends, Christian and Joe, and pray for Esteban's rapid recovery.