Rescuers describe emotional, dangerous recovery of woman, children in Mississippi River

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TUNICA COUNTY, Miss. — For the first time, trained professionals who spent days searching for three people, including two children, after the car they were in plunged into the Mississippi River are telling their story of the recovery.

They said it was a dangerous and emotional operation that they won’t soon forget.

“We had limited information,” said Major Mark Smith with the Tunica County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Response Team. “All we knew was that a woman had driven off into the river, off the back of the Fitz Casino parking lot.

Search and rescue teams moved in mass Sunday to the banks of the Mississippi River just south of the Fitz Casino. Initial reports of the crash alarmed even seasoned professionals.

“We understood there were a couple of children in the vehicle with her, but beyond that, we didn’t know a lot,” Smith said. “And obviously when you get a call like that, it’s an all hands on deck kind of situation.”

Locating the SUV was tricky.

“Debris in the water, water depth, the environment, current, time: that’s a big factor,” said Chris Downs with Panola County Search and Rescue.

Downs was operating the sonar that helped locate the vehicle.

“You go into it knowing the outcome,” Downs said. “And your goal is to bring closure to the family. It doesn’t get easier.”

A dive team from Arkansas assisted in getting the vehicle out of the water, but crews only found the driver, Symphony Wilson, inside.

“Finding that the children weren’t in the car was a huge let-down,” Smith said. “I mean you could kind of feel the wind go out of folks’ sails because they’d worked so hard to get that vehicle up.”

Smith said recovery efforts intensified with everyone determined to find the children, and they did just that. They found the bodies of 5-year-old Brenilah on Tuesday and 2-year-old Cortez on Wednesday.

“I can’t really give you words that describe how you feel or anything like that,” Downs said. “If you have children, as I do, you can imagine not coming home to them.”

The big question remaining is why the SUV plunged into the river.

Investigators will be looking at surveillance video from the Fitz Casino parking lot to see if it provides any answers.

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