STANISLAUS CO., CA (KTXL/CNN) - After three days of searching, authorities located the body of a 5-year-old girl who slipped into a California river and was quickly swept away by the current.
Volunteer divers found 5-year-old Matilda Ortiz, who had autism, just before 5 p.m. Wednesday in the slowly receding waters of the Stanislaus River.
She was tangled in debris two feet under the surface.
Matilda’s aunt, Melissa Naranjo, recounted the moment she saw her niece’s body, days after the 5-year-old slipped on some rocks and fell in the river.
"She’s beautiful. She’s the same way I seen her. She’s the same way,” said Naranjo through tears. “It’s like she was still - it’s like she was still here.”
When Matilda first fell into the river Sunday night, family members and bystanders jumped in to try and rescue her, but unfortunately, no one was able to reach her.
Every hour afterword in the desperate search for the 5-year-old was hampered by the rain-swollen condition of the river. The swift, deep current hid hazards that even dumped one firefighter into the water.
“The firefighter was OK, thankfully, but the boat capsized,” said Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Sgt. Tom Letras.
Deputies worked with the operators of the New Melones Dam for days to drop water levels in the river by regulating flows. Recovery teams thought their best search window would actually come Thursday morning as it hit its lowest point.
Rescue personnel, like everyone else, wanted to see Matilda again – alive.
“We’re grateful that we were able to recover her, but that’s not the way we wanted to have it done,” Letras said.
But with the recovery of Matilda’s body, there is finally some closure - though amid grief - for the little girl’s family.
"We wanted to find her,” said Matilda’s aunt, Letty. “We wanted her back. Thank you, everybody. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”