DuPage River search called off, recovery efforts underway in Winfield after woman with autism, dogs go missing

ByEvelyn Holmes and Alexis McAdams WLS logo
Sunday, May 17, 2020
DuPage River search called off, recovery efforts underway in Winfield after woman with autism, dogs go missing
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Emergency crews have called off the search for a young woman with autism who was swept away in the DuPage River Friday afternoon.

WINFIELD, Ill. (WLS) -- The search for a missing 18-year-old woman who was last seen more than 24-hours ago standing on a flooded pedestrian bridge in the Winfield Mounds Forest Preserve has been called off and recovery efforts are now underway.

The West Chicago woman, who has autism, was swept away by the currents of a rain swollen DuPage River as she walked her two dogs.

Emergency crews spend much of Friday night and all day Saturday searching the area she was last seen.

"We had helicopters, drones, infrared drones; we have sonar boats in the river equipped with side sonar and bottom sonar boats that are going up and down the river searching for the missing woman," DuPage County Forest Preserve Spokesperson Tony Martinez said.

Searchers say when the suburban resident attempted to cross a flooded-out pedestrian bridge in the forest preserve; she was swept away by the river water.

Ralph Grieco and his wife Linda say the pedestrian bridges there usually flood after a heavy rain.

"Before the bridge there was enough water and she may not have realized how deep it was," Ralph said, "She stepped into it and it was so swift."

More than four inches of rain fell at O'Hare International Airport Thursday night and into early Friday, leaving parts of the Chicago-area under flood warnings.

Neighborhood residents say a witness who saw the woman wading across the walkway through the waist high water tried to save her but couldn't.

"A guy on his bike had seen her and she was taken away so fast he couldn't help her," Linda said.

"He saw her on the bridge in water waist high, then saw her swept away," Martinez said. "[He] instructed for her to grab a branch or get away from the current but he lost track and sight of her."

Emergency crews from more than a dozen communities have joined the search.

With so much rain recently, the DuPage River is swollen and the current is powerful.

"We have had rescue boats traveling against the current and some stalled because the current has been so strong," Martinez said. "So that just shows you the power of mother nature."

Rescuers managed to find one of the woman's dogs, a Chihuahua, but were unsuccessful in finding her or her other dog, which is a terrier.

Friday's search was called off at 11 p.m., but Saturday over a hundred searchers tried once again to locate the missing woman.

Authorities are promising to keep looking as they take the opportunity to remind everyone of how deceptively dangerous flood waters can be.

"If you see standing water or flood water, do not attempt to go in it because you just don't know what's underneath and the power of that water," Martinez urged.