STANISLAUS COUNTY — The body of a 5-year-old girl who slipped and fell into the Stanislaus River Sunday has been located, according to the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department.
In slowly receding waters, volunteer divers found Matilda Ortiz just before 5 p.m. two feet under the surface and tangled in debris.
Knights Ferry Search Update: The body of 5-year-old Matilda Ortiz was located and recovered from the Stanislaus River. She was located by volunteers searching the area at around 4:45 this afternoon.
— Stanislaus Sheriff (@StanSheriff) March 21, 2019
“She’s beautiful. She’s the same way, the same way I seen her. She’s the same way, she’s the same way,” said Matilda’s aunt, Melissa Naranjo. “It’s like she was still … it’s like she was still here.”
The aunt of little Matilda 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.
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 hid hazards that dumped one firefighter into the water Wednesday morning.
“The firefighter was OK, thankfully, yeah, but the boat capsized,” said Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Sgt. Tom Letras.
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.
“2,000 cubic foot per second and the water on Monday was running at 4,200,” Letras explained.
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.
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.
“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.”