California

Searchers find body of 5-year-old Matilda Ortiz in Stanislaus River

The body of 5-year-old Matilda Ortiz found in Stanislaus River

The body of Matilda Ortiz, 5, was found in the Stanislaus River downstream from where she slipped in near the Covered Bridge at Knights Ferry, CA. Ortiz fell into the water Sunday March 17, 2019 as they visited the area with her family.
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The body of Matilda Ortiz, 5, was found in the Stanislaus River downstream from where she slipped in near the Covered Bridge at Knights Ferry, CA. Ortiz fell into the water Sunday March 17, 2019 as they visited the area with her family.

The body of 5-year-old Matilda Ortiz, the girl who fell into the Stanislaus River on Sunday, was found late Wednesday afternoon.

Her family confirmed the identity of the body, according to Sgt. Tom Letras of the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department.

The discovery was made about 72 hours after Matilda slid off a rock into the river near the Covered Bridge area of Knights Ferry.

Matilda Ortiz 0319 .jpg
This undated photo shows Matilda Ortiz with her mother, Marissa Vasquez. Courtesy of Marissa Vasquez

Volunteers searching an area of the river west of where she fell in made the discovery at about 4:45 p.m. Letras did not immediately know the exact location where she was found.

Earlier Wednesday, the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department announced that officials had reduced the flow into the river from New Melones Dam to assist in search efforts, hampered by fast-running water.

Melissa Naranjo-Ortiz, Matilda’s aunt who was speaking for the family on Wednesday night from the parking lot area in Knights Ferry where the family was camping out while rescuers searched, said there was some hope in the day when they found the water level would be lowered and more volunteers brought in.

However, that hope turned to anguish when word had gotten out that a body was found.

Of Matilda’s parents, Patterson resident Roberto Ortiz and Oakland resident Marissa Vasquez, Naranjo-Ortiz said: “Right now, they’re not going to be OK. Thank God for friends, family ... everybody … They’ve been a great support”

The river flow was about 4,200 cubic foot per second Sunday afternoon when Matilda, who was with her father and friends near the historic Covered Bridge, slipped off a rock and fell in. Her father and bystanders tried to save her, but she was swept away in the high, fast, cold water.

Just after midnight Tuesday, officials began reducing the flow of water from New Melones, the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department said in a news release Wednesday afternoon. The department cautioned that once the flow is allowed to rise again, the water will rise swiftly.

The little girl’s parents, other relatives and family friends have been at the Knights Ferry Recreation Area day and night to assist with the search.

Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department Lt. Anthony Bejaran discusses the search to find a 5-year-old girl who fell into the Stanislaus River on Sunday.

The dangerous conditions had not allowed the dive team to enter the water. The fast flow also stirred up debris, making visibility low, said Sheriff’s Department spokesman and Waterford Police Services Chief Anthony Bejaran at the scene on Monday.

At one point during the search, a fire boat capsized because of the dangerous river conditions, the Sheriff’s Department reported. No one was injured.

Drones and helicopters were used to search from above.

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Deke has been an editor and reporter with The Modesto Bee since 1995. He currently does breaking-news, education and human-interest reporting. A Beyer High grad, he studied geology and journalism at UC Davis and CSU Sacramento.
John Holland covers breaking news and has been with The Modesto Bee since 2000. He has covered agriculture for the Bee and at newspapers in Sonora and Visalia. He was born and raised in San Francisco and has a journalism degree from UC Berkeley.
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