COLUMBUS — Several key questions remain unanswered Monday night after the body of 2-year-old Emma Sweet was found in the White River on Sunday. It was an ending many had hoped would never come true and has left the community and first responders reeling.
“It’s just a sweet child and especially around this time of year - we can’t even express how we feel about it. It’s hard. We got four girls so we can’t even imagine,” local resident Tonya Cassidy said.
Over a 24-year career, Emma Sweet is a run Columbus Township Fire Chief Dave Thompson says he will never forget.
“It’s something you will never forget, but it’s something you will have to learn to accept,” Thompson said. “You always get those runs that stick with you and when you have a run such as this, you always know this is one that’s going to stick with you.”
Thompson responded to the initial call of a truck in the White River on Friday before dawn.
“We take every call seriously but when a child is involved it gets very personal,” Thompson said.
The search for the toddler kicked into high gear Friday morning after deputies with the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Office say duck hunters found her father, Jeremy, semi-conscious inside a truck submerged in the White River.
“It was full gear from 20 minutes after that call ‘til we found her,” Thompson said.
Deputies say throughout the course of the search for Emma, Jeremy had provided them with several different stories of where exactly Emma was when he went into the water. In two of the three stories, deputies say, Jeremy said Emma went into the White River with him.
The two were reported missing on Thanksgiving Day by family after last being seen Wednesday.
On Saturday, deputies say Emma’s cream color jacket with butterflies on it was found in the river. Less than 72 hours after finding Jeremy’s truck, the 2-year-old’s body was recovered by divers about three miles downstream.
“I was there that day when she was found and there were tears shed on the first responder line too,” Thompson said.
Throughout the mission, Thompson says first responders held onto hope and upwards of 100 paid and volunteer first responders searched day and night.
Thompson says the entire situation is tough, but he is proud of the team and the community who brought Emma home.
“We did complete the mission, but it still feels like a failure because it wasn’t the outcome that you wanted, so I think everybody has that on them,” Thompson said. “Again you have to accept that’s the way it is, you can’t change it, but it’s still hard to get out of your mind.”
Thompson tells WRTV all agencies involved in searching and recovering Emma Sweet will debrief Tuesday night. He adds Columbus Township Fire provides their first responders resources for support.
He asks the community to keep first responders in their thoughts, as they too begin to heal.
Deputies say Jeremy Sweet remains in the hospital as of Monday night. He is currently on a 72-hour hold, per the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Office, that began at 12:01 Monday morning. The Bartholomew County Prosecutor’s Office says it has not brought charges against Jeremy Sweet as of Monday.
On Sunday, Sheriff Matt Myers said once released from the hospital, Jeremy will be transferred to the Bartholomew County Jail.
A spokesperson with the Bartholomew County Coroner's Office said an autopsy will be performed Monday and results of that autopsy will take several weeks.