Watoga Trail Report

The Body Recovery
The conclusion

For one long moment, I froze; my bare fingers grasped the slender wrist of an arm reaching up out of the thick undulating weeds toward the sky and the life-sustaining air.

It took a few moments to sink in what had just transpired; my heart was beating fast, and I felt as though my regulator was not delivering enough air.

I grasped the raised forearm with both hands and pulled against the weeds that seemed intent on keeping the body in its firm grasp. When the body finally released, it rose suddenly, the shoulder colliding into my mask and breaking the seal. Water poured into my mask, but I was afraid to let go of the body lest I not find it again in the dark waters.

After managing to clear the mask with one hand, I started for the surface towing the body by the arm. Once on the surface, I swam on my back, making my way toward shore.

Arriving in shallow water, I stood up and walked backward, pulling the body behind me. Suddenly I heard a cry of pure anguish coming from the shore and turned to see Addy’s father plowing through the water in my direction.

The sheriff and his deputy followed him into the water and grabbed him before he got very far. They took him up on the levee and tried to console him as I made my way to the two men from the ambulance service, waiting at the water’s edge with a body bag.

The intent was to get the body into the bag as soon as possible and transport it to a funeral home. There was a preference at the time for not showing the body to loved ones until such time as it was prepared properly by the undertaker.

After we placed Addy’s body in the bag and started to zip it up, I noticed bruising and swelling on the bridge of her nose about a half-inch wide and a couple of inches long.

This fact would be all I thought about for the rest of the night; there would be no sleep. How did she get that injury? I found nothing around or near the dock that could have caused such a wound. 

Before leaving the scene, I stopped to give my condolences to the inconsolable father, still sitting on the bank where the deputies had left him. I then blundered in a way that I would never repeat in such a situation; I said, “I am so sorry, I know how you must feel.”

I cannot express how thoughtless and ashamed I felt when this grieving father looked up at me and said, “No son, no, you are too young to have any idea how I feel right now.” His gaze returned to the ground, and I quietly left.

The next morning, I called the mortician at the funeral home where Addy’s body was taken. I explained that I had recovered the body and had some questions. We made arrangements to talk later that afternoon.

I met him at his office and shared with him what had transpired the previous evening at the lake, finally bringing up the bruised area on the bridge of Addy’s nose. I asked him if he could tell if it happened before she drowned; my minimal understanding of post-mortem wounds was that they do not bruise or swell.

He started by explaining that there are situations where the pooling of blood post mortem can cause discoloration, similar to a bruise. But, he assured me, the injury to Addy’s lower forehead probably occurred before she drowned. He said a blow to her head could have caused fainting, leading to her drowning.

He asked me if it was possible she hit the edge of the dock or perhaps something underwater? I replied that it was not likely due to the location of the body so far out in the lake. I assured him that I had thoroughly searched the area where a witness said she had entered the water.

Afterward, I sat in my car in the funeral home parking lot, wondering what to do. What had happened to Addy? How did she sustain that head injury so far out in the lake in 20 feet of water?

I had to ask myself why I was pursuing this beyond just recovering the body and going home once my task was over. I did not even have any legal authority outside the park, let alone in another state.

But deep down inside, there was a need to discover what had happened, a duty to the victim. And the facts had not yet revealed themselves. I had to return to the lake for one more look around.

Arriving early the next morning, the lake looked far less intimidating in the daylight. Glancing around the lake there was nothing left to indicate that a terrible tragedy had happened there less than 48 hours ago.

I sat on the dock for a good half-hour and went over the events as they had played out. All the while, a scraping sound was coming from under the pier. Lying face down on the wooden planks, I peered under the dock to see the aluminum canoe that had caught my attention the evening of the drowning.

Grabbing the gunwales, I freed the canoe, maneuvering it out from under the dock and pushing it to shore. I pulled the canoe up on the bank and saw that the only thing in the canoe was a wooden paddle – I picked it up and examined it.

I don’t know if “revelation” is the correct word, but a scene reeled off in my mind about how Addy could have drowned out in the middle of that lake two evenings ago.

The shape of the injury to her lower forehead matched remarkably well to the very end of the paddle blade. An imaginative thought is not evidence, but I could see Addy diving off of the dock and swimming straight out to her friends in the canoe.

I could also imagine a game ensuing in which Addy’s friends were trying to keep her from turning over the canoe or getting onboard. Youngsters do this as play, I remember doing such things as a child myself. Perhaps the wooden paddle was meant to just push Addy away from the canoe and a misplaced jab was a little harder than intended.

The impact could have caused her to pass out, and with almost no body fat and little buoyancy, she would have immediately sunk to the bottom of the lake. This

more recommended stories