KNIGHTS FERRY — A group of friends who intimately know the Stanislaus River were the ones who found 5-year-old Matilda Ortiz’s body Wednesday.
The little girl accidentally slipped into the rushing river Sunday afternoon, kicking off a frantic and desperate four-day search.
“A lot of us have been guides for many years,” River Journey Adventures owner David Voortman said. “Whether it’s swift water training, special guide training, understanding how a river moves.”
When they found out about the agonizing search for Matilda was underway, they decided to take action.
“One of our guides, Jeff, felt that this is something that we could help with,” Voortman said.
Four divers and four guides took to the water and searched for the little girl.
The Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department does not advise volunteers to help with these kinds of searches, however, a spokesman says this group intimately knows how the river flows.
“What made that work was how much experience they had on the river,” Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Sergeant Tom Letras said.
Voortman says his crew also communicated with deputies.
“We wanted to make sure that we worked in conjunction with them, not be in their way,” he told FOX40.
Ortiz was found by a volunteer diver about a quarter-mile from where she slipped.
River guides, deputies, and firefighters want to prevent another tragedy such as this one from happening again.
“We invited people to come out and enjoy the scenery but we ask you enjoy the river from afar,” Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Department Captain Jeff Frye said.
Voortman says to check water levels before you visit, have a life vest ready, and if rafting companies are not on the water, you shouldn’t be, either.
“We want to make sure that their experience is a good experience,” Voortman said. “Not one that requires a rescue at some point.”
Finding Matilda, who loved ones described as funloving, “stubborn” and a girl who really loved cake, has taken a toll on the searchers.
They say they’ll lean on each other to get through the pain.
“Community’s really tight so we know people will be watching out for us,” Voortman said.
Firefighters also warn to stay clear of the river’s edge. They anticipate the water levels may get especially high in the coming days.