STANISLAUS COUNTY (CBS13) — The family of a 5-year-old girl who died after being swept away in the Stanislaus River is speaking out, thanking those who helped with recovery efforts.
Matilda Ortiz loved being outside — rain or shine. Thursday, as her family arrived home, they stood outside near her favorite swing remembering her and thanked every for their support.
“Fernando and Matilda would always fight for this swing,” said Melissa Naranjo-Ortiz.
Naranjo-Ortiz wiped away tears as she stood in her front yard. She recalled the last time her niece Matilda came over to play, watching a video of the 5-year-old just hours before she slipped into the Stanislaus River last Sunday near Knights Ferry.
“I appreciate every single thing they have done for us,” said Naranjo-Ortiz.
A specialized dive team found the little girl Wednesday evening.
“They just said, ‘We’re experienced. We know what we’re doing and we are going to help you guys.’ Do you know how beautiful that felt? It felt really nice,” said Naranjo-Ortiz.
James Holman played a critical role in that rescue efforts.
“I will flag a tree and they do a thorough search with a camera,” he said as he explained what they do.
The former firefighter has managed rafting companies for 14 years and has certifications in swift water and white water rescue. He says this time of year, the flow and temperature of the river can prove deadly because even a strong swimmer can get hypothermia in minutes.
“Lots of debris lots of trees and snags, which is another reason why we try to keep the public out,” said Holman
But if there is an emergency like this one, he is happy to bring in a team to help law enforcement.
“Just because we’re not in the public eye, you can’t see us, doesn’t mean we are not out there doing our best,” Holman said.
And for that, Matilda’s family is forever grateful.
“I never expected to get so much help. It’s heartwarming,” said Naranjo-Ortiz.
The family also thanks the family for their support on social media and is trying to respond to all who reached out. There are no funeral plans at this point.