The death of 18-year-old Sarah Townsend has been ruled a drowning and there were no signs of foul play on her body.
The week-long search for a missing Burlington County teenager came to an end Friday afternoon when her body was discovered in a park police were searching and a post-mortem examination of her body ruled the cause of her death to be drowning.
This was the outcome everyone was praying wouldn’t happen. Her father and friends gathered at the snack shop where she once worked in her hometown of Florence to grieve. Sarah Townsend’s dad Roy shed tears as he struggled with close friends who are all mourning the terrible loss of his 18-year-old daughter. Friends are left in anguish over her death. “She’s beautiful on the inside and out. She’s very caring and loving, and she’s well liked by everybody,” Debbie’s Snack Shop owner Debbie Partyka said. Burlington County Public Safety Directory Walter Corter says canine tracking dogs were out in force searching for 18-year-old Sarah Townsend when they picked up a scent in Green Acres Park. The dogs led police back to the pond they had searched earlier in the week.
Corter says at about 1:15 p.m., during their search of the pond, the New Jersey State Police Canine Unit found Sarah’s body. “Instead of having a large amount of people going through the woods, we just brought the dogs out to see if they can pick up the scent,” Burlington Township police Lt. Bruce Painter said.
Her distraught boyfriend, Matt Welsh collapsed at the scene and had to be helped away to gain some composure. A desperate search to find Sarah had been underway since Monday morning when her car was found in the park with the engine running and the driver’s door open.
A billboard with a life-size poster of Sarah and information about a $10,000 reward had just been erected on Route 206 in Columbus, New Jersey. Interstate Outdoor Advertising donated the billboard to Sarah’s family. “I was hoping she was out there somewhere and she called like ‘I’m here. I’m okay,’ whether she ran away or didn’t want to be found I was hoping she was okay,” said Gabrielle Mercantini of Burlington Township. Earlier this week police indicated Sarah was having trouble dealing with the status of her relationship with her boyfriend. An autopsy performed by Burlington County Medical Examiner Dr. Ian Hood determined the cause of death to be attributable to drowning. Burlington County Prosecutors said there were no signs of trauma to her body and no indication that foul play contributed to her death.
The final autopsy determination is pending the results of toxicology tests, which will take several weeks. For now, family and friends are left morning the loss of a life that showed so much promise.
Reported by Todd Quinones, CBS3; Ben Bowens, CBSPhilly.com