Search for missing mom continues on Pearl River

Search for missing mom continues on Pearl River

(WVUE) - The search for a missing mother of three moves into day three on the Pearl River.

The search area is confined to a low dam structure near Sun, La.

Wildlife agents set out on the river on Monday for the third day of searching for the woman who has been missing since a failed rescue attempt Saturday night.

"It's very difficult because of the nature of the area," said Lt. Jason Russo with the La. Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries. "The sill and behind it, there's a smaller wall, and the water continues to circulate and it's moving the entire time."

The Bogue Chitto dam, or sill, is a flood-control structure similar to one just upriver, and longtime residents say they've claimed victims before.

"I said here we go again. Another mishap on the river," Russell Cooley said.

Authorities say a 14-foot flatboat operated by 41-year-old Terry O'Keefe swamped in the turbulent waters of the dam Saturday night after engine trouble.

"It seems to be an accident," Russo said. "The area in which they were, because the operator couldn't get the vessel started, and they went over the area, and the boat capsized."

Leyton Page, 16, was fishing nearby and jumped into the turbulence to save 31-year-old Jonie Morgan's 6- and 9-year-old boys but failed to rescue Morgan.

"I used my boat to hold me up and went over to help them and talked to the woman before she got sucked up," Page said. "They went to leave, the engine died, and they hit the sill broadside and it dumped them out."

The ongoing search and Page's heroics prompted an outpouring from the community.

"He's only 16. I felt bad for him," said local nurse Amanda Pearson, who was at the boat launch Saturday and witnessed the aftermath. She's now raised nearly $1,500 on a gofundme account for Leyton to help him pay for a shotgun and other valuables lost in the Pearl.

"He said, 'I don't care about the gun, that's the least of my worries. I just want to save the boys,'" Pearson said.

On Monday searchers were using new techniques to search for the missing mom in extremely turbulent water between two concrete dam structures, about 5 feet apart.

"What our guys did - they stretched a line straight across the river and rigged up a pulley system," Lt. Russo.

The three children are expected to be okay.

"They're alive because of you, and I thank you so much," the victims' grandmother, Janice Dillon, said to Page.

State wildlife officials say they are hoping their new technique will help them recover the missing mom soon. They plan to continue searching until dark. Meantime, the Browning rifle company donated a new hunting rifle to Page because his was swamped in the rescue.

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