‘This is a severe tragedy’ | SteamboatToday.com

‘This is a severe tragedy’

Jerry Raehal

— A 13-year-old girl who had been missing since 6 p.m. Sunday was found dead Monday morning in the Yampa River.

Karen Valdez, of Stephenville, Texas, was last seen swimming in the river, just west of Loudy-Simpson Park.

Her body was found 50 feet down river from where she was last observed, under 8 feet of water at about 8:30 a.m., Moffat County Sheriff Tim Jantz said. The girl was not wearing a life jacket.

Jantz said the incident occurred when Valdez and her cousins – who she was visiting, along with her uncle and aunt – were playing in the river.

“Our victim slipped and kind of slid in a hole,” Jantz said. “She grabbed a cousin. The cousin stood up, and they saw the victim go under the water. That was the last they saw her, which was about 10 minutes prior to the time they called us.

“There was a person in the water. I don’t know if it was a cousin or friend that was right there who attempted to find her right way. : This is a severe tragedy.”

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Moffat County Search and rescue told Jantz there was an undercurrent where the girl was found, which “makes the surface water not look as fast.

“We don’t know the cause. : Whether (the undercurrent) was a factor, we do not know.”

The Moffat County Sheriff’s Office was dispatched to the scene at 6 p.m. Sunday, with deputies arriving around 6:05 p.m. Workers started to be called off at around 8:45 p.m. because of darkness and for safety of the search and crewmembers, Jantz said.

The search continued at 6:30 a.m. Monday. An airplane flown by Luke Tucker, who also helped with the search Sunday night, spotted the girl’s body.

The Sheriff’s Office is ruling the death an accident.

The girl’s name wasn’t released until 3 p.m. Monday to allow the family to be notified. Valdez’s family was driving in from Texas.

Valdez was to be a seventh-grader at Gilbert Intermediate in Stephenville.

“We at Gilbert Intermediate express our deepest sympathy to the family of Anna Karen Valdez,” Gilbert Intermediate Principal Tommy Washington told the Stephenville Empire-Tribune. “Karen was highly thought of by the staff and very well liked by her peers. We share in her family’s grief during this very difficult time. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family.”

Approximately 35 people helped with the search and rescue effort Monday, and 30 to 35 people helped Sunday night.

Agencies involved in the search included the Sheriff’s Office, Moffat County Search and Rescue, Bureau of Land Management, Colorado State Patrol, Craig Fire/Rescue and The Memorial Hospital.

(Doug Myers of the Stephenville Empire-Tribune contributed to this report.)