Authorities recover body of missing child from Minnesota River near Mankato

Updated: 3 p.m.

Search crews have recovered the body of an 8-year-old girl who went missing while swimming in the Minnesota River on Thursday evening in Mankato.

The Blue Earth County Sheriff's Office said searchers found the body of Willow Rae Bense of rural Janesville, Minn., just after 8:30 a.m. Friday, about a mile downstream from where she had been swimming at Sibley Park.

Authorities said Willow was with her family at a sandbar around 6 p.m. Thursday when she and one of her siblings started struggling in deeper water. A bystander was able to rescue the sibling but Willow went missing.

Willow's mother was also swept downstream while trying to rescue the girl before making it back to shore.

Sheriff's Captain Paul Barta said the search went through the night, on the water and from the air. A search team from the Cleveland, Minn., fire department — one of many local and state agencies who responded to the scene — found Willow's body.

"It's a sad day. We really also would like to express our sympathies and condolences to the family again," Barta said during a news conference broadcast by KARE 11. "I've spent some time with them this morning. The loss of a child is heartbreaking. It's always heartbreaking in an accidental-type situation like this and it's nothing short of a tragedy.”

Personnel from the Blue Earth, Nicollet, Brown and Le Sueur county sheriff's offices, Mankato police and fire, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Minnesota State Patrol, Mayo Ambulance, and the Madison Lake and New Ulm fire departments were among the other agencies taking part in the search.

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