The worst nightmare for any parent is the idea of being separated from their child. Now imagine that child is an autistic 11-year-old, has been missing for hours, and her clothes are found in a pile next to the flowing Little Sioux River. You would want to hope for the best, but in your heart, it would be hard not to fear the worst. I still remember the reaction on the faces of family and friends when the announcement came that Mackenzie had been found six miles down river and was safe.
(Photo by Randy M. Cauthron)
Spencer Police Chief Mark Lawson said the safe retrieval of a severely autistic 11-year-old Spencer girl from the Little Sioux River Saturday can't be credited to any member of the search party.
He simply pointed skyward and looked to the heavens.
"If anybody wants to argue the existence of God with me, after today ...," Lawson's voice trailed off.
"It was all Him."
Clay County Sheriff Randy Krukow echoed his sentiments, pointing to the sky and saying, "The big guy was responsible for this."
"Her guardian angel deserves a big pat on his or her wings," Lawson added.
Mackenzie Stevens was discovered by Dickens Fire and Rescue, clinging to a tree and calling for help, in deep river water around 12:15 p.m., approximately six miles down stream from where she undressed and entered the Little Sioux in southwest Spencer. She had been missing since 7 a.m. that morning.
"It was the worst day of my life," Sarah Launderville, Mackenzie's mother, said Monday looking back. Waiting for information near the make-shift emergency command center at the entrance to West Leach Park was agonizing.
But once she received word that Mackenzie had been found and was ok, her agony became elation. "I was speechless. I was so excited and so happy. There were tears of joy and tears of excitement. I didn't care if she were sick or hurt. Just knowing I was going to be able to take her home, knowing she was alive, I was happy with that result."
Spencer Police oversaw the five-plus hour search which began shortly after the local department had been notified of Mackenzie's disappearance Saturday. The contact set into motion a multi-agency search and rescue effort. A call from Nick Laubenthal, reporting someone crying for help in the area of 3660 250th Ave., helped lead rescue craft to her location, clutching a tree in the water, a short time later.
She was taken to a waiting ambulance on Highway 18, east of Spencer, and transported to the Spencer Hospital where she was treated and released.
"She's doing great. She's really doing great. She's got a few scrapes and a few bruises, but other than that she's fine." Launderville said. "I'm not sure how she was feeling when she got into the river, but she was really scared when she grabbed onto the tree."