CLEARLAKE — The worst fears of the hundreds who converged around Clearlake to help search for Mikaela Lynch were realized late Wednesday morning: the 9-year-old autistic girl was discovered dead in Cache Creek.
“Unfortunately, we have conclusion to the search. Miss Mikaela has been found deceased in the water not far from the residence,” Clearlake Police Chief Craig Clausen said at the command post just after noon Wednesday.
There were no immediate signs of foul play and the investigation into Lynch’s death remains ongoing, according to Clausen, who made the announcement and answered questions for about 2 1/2 minutes.
The young girl, who was severely developmentally disabled and could not speak, reportedly snuck out an open gate at her family’s Highlands Harbor vacation home early Sunday afternoon.
“It’s heartfelt, and it’s difficult for me to stand here and even speak,” Clausen said outside the command center, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Lakeview Way in Clearlake.
The city’s police chief was wearing sunglasses, his voice choking, while he made the somber announcement.
Clausen said it was not immediately clear how long the girl was in the water, when she died or whether search-and-rescue teams had previously scoured the location where her body was ultimately found by a local dive team around 10:45 a.m. Wednesday.
Lynch’s family, before the discovery, planned to make a statement Wednesday afternoon, but they opted not to comment.
In light of her body being found, according to the police chief.
The mood around the church parking lot turned decidedly solemn in the wake of news spreading about Lynch’s death. Many rescue officials and volunteers appeared distraught, with some crying as they walked toward their vehicles.
Hundreds of police, rescue and volunteer searchers from throughout Lake County and Northern and Central California assisted in the nearly three-day operation to find the missing girl.
The efforts included door-to-door and yard-to-yard searches, walks through marshlands and waterways, and the use of a variety of equipment such as helicopters, boats and unmanned submarines with sonar and video capabilities, Clearlake Police Sgt. Nick Bennett said.
“As sad as it ended, it definitely gave me a lot of pride in this community,” Clearlake councilman Joey Luiz, who volunteered at the command post, said.