The search for a beloved sheriff’s deputy in Putnam County, Florida, has ended in tragedy.
The body of Brandee Smith, 35, was found 24 hours after she went missing after reportedly falling into the water while boating with her boyfriend, the Florida Times Union reported.
She leaves behind four children and colleagues at the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department, who remember her as a dedicated, inspiring deputy, devoted to serving her community.
According to the Gainesville Sun, the Putnam County sheriff’s office received a 911 call at 4:42 a.m. Friday morning reporting a boating accident in Welaka on the St. Johns River.
Brandee and her boyfriend, who wasn’t named, were out boating in a 14-foot skiff. An investigation determined that the boat hit a channel marker offshore. Smith fell out of the boat and into the water and went missing.
The boyfriend immediately called 911 to report the crash and began to search for his girlfriend, but was unsuccessful.
The channel marker is located near a boat ramp leading into the river, and apparently has reflectors on it, but not a beacon. The St. Johns River also boasts a strong current. In the area she went missing, its waters run 18 feet deep, but drops to 30 feet deep close by.
An army of people came out to help find the missing deputy: 150 officers from 11 local, county, and federal agencies, alongside the sheriff’s office. Divers and deputies from Jacksonville, Clay, St. Johns, Flagler, Orange, Volusia, and Lake counties joined in, as well as officials from the St. Augustine Police Department, U.S. Coast Guard, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. People searched by helicopter, in boats with side-scanning sonar, personal watercraft, and on foot. Officers also hunted the river banks on foot.
The search encompassed an area about three-to five miles away from the channel marker, where Brandee fell in the water and went missing.
And at 1:45 p.m. Saturday, the deputy’s body was finally found, Captain Joseph Wells announced, according to News 4 Jax.
“It is obviously with a very heavy heart that (we) announce the passing of one of our own,” he stated. “Members of the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office placed a badge with Brandee as a token of our appreciation for her dedicated service to the citizens of Putnam County.”
Smith had been a deputy since 2012, and had been an inspiration to her colleagues and the younger officers she helped mentor. Wells said that she “blew us away every day with her abilities and her desire to serve the community.
“(Smith) left her mark on all of us and we shall never forget her … Not all that long ago, she was actually part of a team that rescued a young child that was a victim of a parental kidnapping and you know, she did a fantastic job during the rescue of the child, but what amazed me the most is she was the only person that could console and comfort that child.”
She was also a mother to four children, and the department said their focus is now on supporting her family and those who worked alongside her. Wells praised the team that worked tirelessly for 24 hours to help find her, and the locals and businesses who chipped in by supporting the searchers with food and assistance.
“I’m very proud of the men and women that came out here this week and did this work,” he said. “They kept their mind on the job, they knew that we owed it to Brandee’s family to bring her home and that’s what they did.”
[Image via David R Dugle II/Shutterstock]