The aunt of little Matilda Ortiz recounted the moment she saw her niece’s body once it was found, three days after the girl slipped on some rocks and fell into the Stanislaus River. “She’s beautiful she’s the same way,” Melissa Naranjo sobbed. “She same way I seen her. The same way… she’s the same way. It’s like was still. It’s like she was still here.”
Each hour of the desperate search for the 5-year-old was hampered by the rain-swollen condition of the river near the Knight’s Ferry Campground in Oakdale.
The swift, deep current hiding hazards that dumped one firefighter into the water.
Sgt. Tom Letras with the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department said, “The firefighter was okay, thankfully. Yes… but the boat, the boat capsized.”
Stanislaus County Sheriff’s deputies worked with operators of the New Melones Dam for days to drop 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. Sgt. Letras said, “2,000 cubic foot per second. Water on Monday was running at 4200.”
But, in slowly receding waters, volunteer divers found Matilda just two feet under the surface, tangled in debris.
“We’re grateful we were able to recover her,” Sgt Letras said. “But that’s not the way we wanted to have it done.”
They, like everyone else, wanted to see Matilda again—alive.
Now a family will have to come to grips with how a weekend trip to enjoy the beautiful weather and just dip toes into the water could come to such a devastating end.
Naranjo said, “We wanted to find her. We wanted her back. Thank you, everybody. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”
Several agencies helped out in the search for Matilda. They used a helicopter and three drones to scan the area.