5-year-old dies after rescue crews find her in shallow water in Savanna

Published: Jun. 29, 2020 at 2:22 PM CDT
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SAVANNA, Ill. (KWQC) - The Savanna Police Department on Monday said a 5-year-old girl found unresponsive in shallow water Sunday afternoon has died.

A family member tells TV6 the girl is 5-year-old Elena Schaefer.

“She was a sweet caring little girl who loved her siblings and her family dearly,” said a family member in a message to TV6. “She will be remembered by her contagious smile and her heart of gold.”

Schaefer, along with a 5-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl, was reported missing just after 12:40 p.m., police said.

Officers first found the boy, who said the two girls were possibly in the Plum River.

“Normally the kids wander off to the park, but that wasn’t the case,” said Savanna Police Lt. Dan Nevills. “When we arrived, we found a 5-year-old male was one of the ones missing. We found him and he said that the two friends, females he was with, had went into the river.”

Police called Savanna Fire and EMS to respond. Carroll County Sheriff’s deputies responded and helped with the search on the bank of the river, according to police.

“At that point we called out the fire-rescue, the ambulance crew and put them on standby and began a search of the bank, of the river there... the Plum River,” said Nevills.

Police said auxiliary officers went to a nearby pub, where a band was playing, and asked them to turn their music down. “They responded greatly and took care of that right away,” said Nevills. “As soon as they put that music down we could hear one of the juveniles yelling for help.”

“Many of the people there ran to the [river bank] to try to help. That’s what you get in a small town,” said Nevills.

Officers located the 12-year-old, who was clinging to a tree limb. She was pulled out of the river unharmed, according to police.

Nevills said, “From that point we had one group of responders looking through the snags with poles to see if we could locate the juvenile, and another group going down the bank looking for the juvenile.”

Around 1:13 p.m., emergency responders found the 5-year-old girl unresponsive in shallow water about a half-mile away from where the others were located. CPR was performed and she was flown by OSF Life Flight to Rockford Memorial Hospital, where she died around 4:15 p.m., according to police.

“The young girl wasn’t there too long, but by the time we got to her it was probably too late,” said Nevills.

Nevills told TV6 the challenge with the Plum River is it runs “really fast and the height is from 8 to 10 feet.” He said, “The 12-year-old had enough strength to hold on to the tree whereas the other one wasn’t able to hold on. She was swept away.”

When TV6 asked Nevills about the impact of tragedies like this on first responders, he said, “everybody processes things like this differently. One of the things they do is our EMS crew, who are all volunteer, will put a debriefing together and have a counselor, which is actually going to be tomorrow night.”

“Here at the police department, we’re going to make that mandatory for anybody involved to go. It doesn’t hurt. One thing you do is you talk about it,” Nevills said.

“It wasn’t just police departments that responded. It was fire, EMS, life-flight, we had DNR, federal, local. I mean, everybody works in a situation like this and the work is ongoing. We’ll still be working this case in a couple days,” said Nevills.

According to the Winnebago County Coroner’s Office, an autopsy is scheduled for Tuesday.

Family has set up a GoFundMe for Schaefer, which can be found by clicking here.

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