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14-year-old boy's body recovered from Chattahoochee River

The body of a 14-year-old Columbus boy was recovered three hours after he was swept beneath the water on the Chattahoochee River Saturday, authorities said.

Fire Marshal Ricky Shores of the Columbus Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services said the body was recovered at 8:38 p.m. about 80 yards south of the location where he was swept under at Woodruff Park. Water in the area ranges from 4 to 5 feet to 15 to 20-feet deep, he said.

Muscogee County Coroner Buddy Bryan identified the teen as Justin Thomas. He was pronounced dead at 8:55 p.m. at the river.

Divers were in the water at 5:51 p.m., searching for the teen 10 minutes after he was pulled beneath the water while swimming just north of the Dillingham Street Bridge and west of Woodruff Park.

“ A witness report said he went under water and did not resurface,” Shores said.

Shores said victims are usually found fairly close to the location where they were last seen. “With the currents of the river, it’s just really up to mother nature.”

Witnesses said the boy and other people were floating on their backs on the sunny afternoon when he was suddenly swept beneath the surface.

A mother who was on the river with her two children said she saw the teen go into the water while she was on the other side of the Riverwalk steps leading to the river.

“He came floating by,” said the woman who didn’t want her name used. “I grabbed out for him and he pulled me in. He pulled me under and that is the last I saw him. I came back up but he didn’t.”

James Westover was on the river with his friend when they were floating in the general area where the boy reached for the woman.

“We were going down at the same time it happened,” Westover said. “They were a ways in front of us. When we got down there she was saying help, help.”

The boy appeared to be swimming because he had on shorts and no shirt in the water. His sister was nearby on the steps.

Shores said the boy succumbed to the currents in the river.

The boys mother arrived on the river shortly after the search started. Other frantic family members, many weeping loudly also were on the scene.

Police sealed off a section of the Chattahoochee Riverwalk near the steps along the river just west of the splash pool to keep people from the search area.

Shores cautioned people who are on the river for an outing. “Just be cautious,” he said. “The law requires if you are in the water, whether in a boat or swimming, you must have a personal flotation device. Just be cautious near the edge because the currents are very unpredictable and they can very quickly overpower even a confident swimmer.”

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