Dive crew, MPD dog join search for 5-year-old who fell into Wisconsin River

Search turned to recovery operation

A dive crew and Madison Police Department cadaver dog has joined the search for a search area of the Wisconsin River for a 5-year-old girl that has been missing since Monday.

Officials said the cadaver dog might have determined the location of Angela Girton’s body. A dive team from Black River Falls will use sonar equipment Thursday to assist with the search.

Richland County Emergency Management and the Lone Rock Fire Department along with DNR wardens have been combing a section of the river near Gotham for Girton.

Richland County sheriff’s officials said they got a 911 call around 6:15 p.m. Monday, reporting that a child had fallen into the north side of the Wisconsin River near a boat landing in Gotham. Weather has hampered search efforts, but volunteers and officials continued looking Wednesday.

Richland County Emergency Management Director Darrin Gudgeon said Girton was with three other children, including a sibling, and had gone to the river for a picnic.

“I know that Angela went into the water, and I know that her sibling and another child reached out and made a chain and used a stick to try to help her out but that was unsuccessful,” said Gudgeon.

Officials are searching a few-mile section of the river, which they say is difficult to navigate even for experts, and has such a fast-moving current that two men were needed to pull a diver out of the water Tuesday. They have been using three boats, a drone, airplane and a Madison police cadaver dog to search the area where Girton went in the water to a few miles downstream, but they said the section has heavy debris and poor visibility.

Girton’s family is now struggling with every moment she’s still missing.

“It’s hard to have closure when you don’t know where she is,” said Lisa Christianson, Girton’s great aunt. “It would be nice if she was home.”

There are also mixed feelings amongst family members about the circumstances of the incident, as they say the group of children were allowed to leave a babysitter’s home unattended.

“It was just a bunch of kids playing, and like kids do they stray off,” said Angela’s grandfather, Harry Christianson. “I don’t think there’s anybody to blame. Just one of them freak deals.”

Lisa Christianson disagrees, and said she has been concerned about the situation.

“I definitely hope there is some type of prosecution if it comes down to somebody is responsible here,” Lisa Christianson said. “If it was me, I would have never let them go, but everybody parents different.”

Girton is already being remembered as an active and happy 5-year-old, who just celebrated a birthday on April 1.

“Just a gorgeous little 5-year-old girl,” Harry Christianson said.

“Jenny [her mother] said she didn’t get to play with many of her toys, because it’s tragic,” Girton’s aunt Jessica Christianson said. “But she was the happiest little girl, proud to be in school, had so many friends, sweetest personality and loved the heck out of her sister and brother.”

The family is also expressing their gratitude for both the search crews and those who have offered support.

“It’s just so wonderful that there are so many wonderful people coming out, people we don’t know, people giving days off work or time so they can come help,” Lisa Christianson said. “It’s just so greatly appreciated by the family, we can’t say thank you enough.”

Those crews say they are combing the river repeatedly in hopes of giving the family closure.

“We want to make sure that when the recovery operation is over that we can look at the family and say we did everything that we could,” Gudgeon said. “There isn’t anybody here that wants to walk away and not be able to recover her from this river.”

Lone Rock’s fire chief said their crews will continue to search the river through Saturday, and then will meet to re-evaluate their plans.