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Search for 6-year-old swept away by Chester Creek now a recovery mission: officials

Officials using all tools available in search for Li’najah Brooker in Chester, Pennsylvania
Officials using all tools available in search for Li’najah Brooker in Chester, Pennsylvania 01:58

CHESTER, Pa. (CBS) -- Search teams in Delaware County said nothing was found during the third day of searching for Li'najah Brooker, the 6-year-old Chester girl who was reportedly swept away in the Chester Creek in Delaware County on Saturday.

"I'm going to exhaust every option that I have in order to find her and bring her back to her family," said Chester City Fire Commissioner John-Paul Shirley as he prepared to board a boat on the banks of the Delaware River Monday morning.

Crews set off from the boat launch next to Subaru Park, the home of the Philadelphia Union, with their sights set on searching the Chester Creek in a way they haven't been able to before. They had help from sonar from the Pennsylvania State Police that can be towed behind smaller boats.

"The boats that we have that are equipped with sonar are much too big to get up into the Chester Creek," Shirley said.

The plan was to comb the creek from the park near 7th and Pennsylvania where Li'najah reportedly went in the water Saturday all the way to the mouth of the Delaware River. CBS News Philadelphia crews saw the boat making multiple passes from the 2nd Street bridge.

"This now gives us the ability to almost see underwater," Shirley said.

Crews exited the water at around 12:30 p.m. Three and a half hours later, officials said they reviewed all the scans from the day, and that "nothing was found."

Officials say they plan to continue the search efforts Tuesday using scent canines.

Crews continue search for child swept away by Chester Creek in Delaware County 01:30

Transition to recovery mission

Officials transitioned the search to a recovery mission Sunday.

Shirley said Sunday crews believed the search would turn into a recovery mission "after three hours," but they held out hope.

"We always had in the back of our minds, just based on the initial information, that it was going be a recovery after three hours," Shirley said during a press conference Sunday afternoon. "But that being said, we didn't want to give out hope. Because we were looking for that miracle. We were always hopeful that we could find something, now there's just without a doubt, once we had the sunlight on our side, and we're able to do a much more thorough search, that it wasn't going to be a rescue, it was going to be a recovery."

On Sunday, City of Chester Mayor Stefan Roots said the search for Li'najah remained "aggressive," and that local rescue crews and the U.S. Coast Guard were using every resource at their disposal to find her.

"We just want her body to be found, that's it," Amaya Morris, Li'najah's aunt, said. "We want peace, knowing that she was found." 

"We are going to make every attempt that we can to get closure for the family by finding the young lady who is in the creek," Roots said.

Search for 6-year-old girl in Chester officially a recovery effort, Delaware County officials say by CBS Philadelphia on YouTube

6-year-old first reported in the water

On Saturday, a 911 call reported that a child had fallen into the water around 7 p.m. Initial reports indicated that two girls were playing by the water when Li'najah slipped on mud and fell into the creek.

The Chester Bureau of Fire then began a search and rescue operation in connection with Delaware County's water rescue team. On Saturday, the U.S. Coast Guard also had a small boat and helicopter searching the area.

Local crews suspended their search around 10:30 p.m. and resumed around 8 a.m. Sunday, though Coast Guard crews continued their search efforts through the night, according to Shirley.


Crews using "every asset" to find Li'najah

Sunday morning, Shirley outlined some more of the tactics rescue teams had been using to find Li'najah.

Smaller boats were deployed along the creek, from where she fell into the water to the mouth of the Delaware River. Then on the Delaware River, larger boats were used to search on both the New Jersey and Pennsylvania sides.

"Every asset that we have at our disposal, we're going to be using," Shirley said.

Coast Guard helicopters flew over the creek throughout the day Sunday, as well as drones. Shirley said rescue crews are searching along all of the banks from where Li'najah entered the water to the mouth of the Delaware River, and firefighters are using a brand new, underwater drone.

"It's remote-operated. It has a camera on it. It allows us to basically see underwater without us having to put divers in the water, which is anytime you put divers underwater, it's a dangerous situation," Shirley said. 

Shirley and Roots said that the underwater drone was recently acquired thanks to a $250,000 grant through the police department.

Saturday night, Delaware County emergency services brought down light towers to help search crews with visibility. Crews also launched drones with infrared and thermal imaging technology to help with the night search.

Delaware County officials give update on "aggressive" search for 6-year-old swept into Chester Creek by CBS Philadelphia on YouTube

Conditions complicating the search

On Saturday, more than two inches of rain fell in Chester, complicating the search.

"It's very rapid currents. There's a lot of debris in the water which poses a potential hazard to our responders, but they've been trained to kind of deal with those situations," Shirley said.

On Sunday morning, Shirley said conditions were much better for their search. The flow of the river reduced, there was less debris and the depth had dropped by about five feet. However, crews were still challenged by the cold conditions.

Family praying Li'najah is found safe

Li'najah's aunt, Tyeesha Reynolds, said she's praying she will be found alive.

"They was down there playing and she went down a little too far with the other kids. And my 7-year-old daughter tried to hold her. And she was holding on to my daughter's coat, and I guess the wind took her," Reynolds said. "It would be terrifying for me and I'm 40. She's 6. So I'm quite sure she's terrified."

At this time only one child is reported missing. 

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