The bodies of four children were discovered Tuesday after a desperate three-day search by more than 40 divers in the deep waters of the Intracoastal Waterway, officials said. The discovery of the bodies brings to five the number of children from several families picnicking together who drowned in the dangerous slip of water where no-swimming signs are posted.
Divers began searching Sunday afternoon after Tonya Thornton, 15, of Springfield, was pulled from the water near where the children had been playing. She later died.
The four bodies pulled from the water Tuesday were Tonya's little brother, Jamel Thornton, 3; their half-sister, Keania Stanley, 7; Monique Fennell, 9, of Panama City; and Zephora Cromartie, 12, also of Panama City.
Bay County sheriff's Lt. Jerry Girvin said several families came to the park every weekend to picnic and play in the water on the other side of the slip, where swimming is allowed.
"Five of the children ran off to play along the beach and one of the adults that was watching them had moved back to the picnic area to take a sand spur out of another child's foot," said Girvin.
Although there were no witnesses, authorities think the children drowned trying to save one another.