BUTLER COUNTY, Kan. (KSNW) – A 19-year-old teen is missing after swimming in the Walnut River near the Osage Dam on Wednesday evening.
Update 9am: The search has switched to a recovery effort. Butler County Sheriff Kelly Herzet says authorities are using a boat and sonar technology as they search for the teen.
An Augusta and Butler County search and rescue team are trying to find the 19-year-old man who is believed to be in the river. Sheriff Herzet said the man, who has not been identified, was trespassing with three others.
“It’s gone on for years that kids come down here along the Osage Dam,” Herzet said. “These kids were down here messing around, and the gentleman said he wanted to go swimming and urged the others to get in the water with him. They didn’t, but he jumped in. He went under, never came back up, and we haven’t found him yet.”
Herzet said the people involved were adults from 18 to 19 years old from the Augusta area. He tried to explain the timeline of events according to interviews with them.
After 7 p.m. Wednesday, four young men were trespassing on private land along the bank of the Walnut River near Augusta. One of them urged others to jump in and swim. The other three refused, but he jumped in and never resurfaced. At some point, the other three left to bring a young woman to the same area.
Law enforcement became involved when the landowner noticed a shirt and cell phone on the bank of the river. The landowner called Augusta Public Safety to report possible trespassers.
An Augusta officer responded and met the landowner in the area. He saw the group of three men and the woman walking nearby and advised them they were trespassing. The men went to leave, but the woman hesitated, Herzet said, and reported the missing 19-year-old to the officer.
“[She] said, ‘I just want to tell you that there was another guy, and he jumped in the river, and the guys told me that he never came up,'” the girl said in an interview, according to Herzet. “‘So that’s where the shirt and the cell phone came from.'”
Augusta and Butler County officials began the rescue process, with the response from Augusta Public Safety, Butler County Sheriff’s deputies, Butler County Water Rescue, and Butler County EMS.
“It appears that we do have a victim in the Walnut River,” Herzet told reporters. “We have not found him yet. We have done rescue on the banks. We’ve got a boat in the water.”
He said the personnel would continue the rescue-effort until it became unsafe Wednesday night. If they don’t, authorities will return early Thursday morning.
“Hopefully, we will find him.”
The missing man’s family has been notified. Herzet said they came to the search area and are aware of what is going on.
Herzet expressed grief over the frequency of incidents like this, saying young people visit the area often despite trespassing and dangerous conditions.
“They are trespassing when they’re down here,” Herzet said. “The water levels are up higher right now. The water is rushing pretty good. The water is still cold. It’s not a good place to swim. There’s a lot of debris in the water down there. There always has been. It’s a dangerous place. This ain’t the first time we’ve been down here for rescues.”
Herzet said several kids have gone missing in the area after kayak accidents and swimming.
“It’s not really a good place to be. It’s not a good idea.”
Herzet said the rescue efforts will continue for the time being. It could turn into a recovery effort Thursday morning, meaning law enforcement believe he did not survive.
When asked why the three men did not report the incident before the woman got involved, Herzet said it seems they thought they were already in enough trouble by trespassing and didn’t want to make it worse.
“It was the girl that actually spoke up.”
As far as fault goes, Herzet said he’s not placing blame at this time.
“Our main object here is to find this gentleman, hopefully alive,” he said.
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