The incident happened on Sunday at Devil's Elbow in Yosemite National Park. A Yosemite park spokesperson said Gonzalez jumped in the Merced River to rescue his parents from drowning.
The parents survived the ordeal, but Gonzalez was pulled out of the water by bystanders and pronounced dead at the scene.
Officials say the river is mostly calm, but at this time of the year, the water temperature is much colder, and the water level is higher.
Walter Gonzalez was a former football player and member of the choir at Royal High School.
Royal High is on spring break, but family and friends gathered on campus Wednesday night for a candle lighting in memory of Gonzalez. Many friends have also changed their Facebook profile picture to a black ribbon in honor of the teen.