They found the body of 5-year-old Alexa Martinez. Her brother, 4-year-old Abraham Martinez Jr., remained missing.
“For us to find a body is a success but it is not the success we were hoping for,” Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell told WTVD-TV of Raleigh.
Both children were inside their family’s car when flash flooding pulled the vehicle into a creek in Smithfield, about 30 miles southeast of Raleigh.
Their mother, Vanessa Castro, had been rescued after making a 911 call late Monday. Their father, Abraham Martinez Sr., was away in Charlotte, on a construction job, the News & Observer of Raleigh reported.
“My only duty right now is to find my son,” the father, 27, told the newspaper. “The Lord gave me back my daughter, and now just my son is missing. Even though she isn’t my biological daughter, I love her the same, and it hurts me a whole lot.”
Castro was on the phone with emergency dispatchers for more than 20 minutes as her car was pulled closer to the Neuse River, the News & Observer reported.
“It’s up to my knees!” Castro is heard saying in the recordings. “It’s up to my knees. It’s up to my knees!”
The mother is then heard talking to her children.
“Baby, we’re not gonna die,” she said.
Then, returning to the dispatchers: “Oh, my goodness. I don’t think I can get my kids out because I can’t see anything. I can’t see anything.”
Following instructions from the dispatchers, Castro placed her son onto the roof of the vehicle but she couldn’t manage to get her daughter onto the roof, the News & Observer reported.
Soon, the car was being swept away and Castro found herself clinging to a tree – with the car and both of her children gone from her sight.
A crew of about 40 deputies from the Johnston County sheriff’s office were searching for the children Wednesday when Alexa’s body was discovered.
Authorities said emergency responders rescued the mother and son early Tuesday but then their rescue boats capsized and the boy was lost to the water.
“We’re fortunate that we had no loss of life for first responders the other night,” Bizzell told WTVD.
On Wednesday a prayer group formed in Smithfield to pray for the family, the News & Observer reported.
“The devil is laughing tonight,” Donna Mitchell, a Garner resident who led the group, told the paper, “but he’s laughing alone.”