Body of Sarah Townsend found in NJ pond

Pictured: Sarah Townsend.

May 14, 2011 6:48:42 AM PDT
The body of 18-year-old Sarah Townsend, who had been missing since Monday morning, was found Friday afternoon. The Burlington County Medical Examiner confirms the cause of death as attributed to drowning.

It is the end of an excruciating day for the family and friends of 18 year old Sarah Townsend of Florence, N.J.

Her body was pulled out of Sherman pond in a Burlington Township park.

They held a vigil in Sarah's memory in Florence Friday night where an entire community, overcome by despair and grief, came to mourn her life.

On the dark street corner in Florence Township, people sang and mourned the loss of 18 year old Sarah Townsend.

Her father spoke for the first time publicly since the high school senior's body was pulled from the Sherman's Pond in Burlington Township Friday afternoon.

"She's up there in the castle," said Roy Townsend. "She's not down here slumming it with me, so that's good. She's got her wings, and I love her and thank you Jesus."

Townsend disappeared Monday, and there has been an intense search since police found her car abandoned near the pond with a note inside which said, "I'm sorry".

"You brought together a lot of love, and you did it all for Sarah and I appreciate it. Sarah just found another place to go, and it's okay everything is alright," said Roy.

As family and friends remembered her during the candlelight vigil, the medical examiner released autopsy results.

Burlington County Medical Examiner Dr. Ian Hood, who performed the autopsy Friday, concluded there were no signs of trauma to her body and no indications that foul play contributed to her death.

"I don't know if it's true," said Debbie Partyka. "I don't know."

The discovery of Townsend sent emotional shockwaves through the community.

Officers had to tackle her distraught boyfriend at the scene after he ran past the police perimeter.

"We still have to treat this as a crime scene and they had no idea who was coming up so, unfortunately, they had to take him to the ground," said Lt. Bruce Painter of the Burlington Township Police.

Townsend's mother was not at this vigil, but she spoke to Action News hours before her daughter was found, and she was convinced her teen would never harm herself.

"Nothing just sounds right, nothing rings true about Sarah," said Laurie Townsend. "It just doesn't make any sense."

There are still a lot of unanswered questions. The final autopsy determination is pending the results of toxicology tests, which will take several weeks.

Burlington County Prosecutor Robert D. Bernardi and Burlington Township Public Safety Director Walter J. Corter announced Friday night that a post-mortem examination of Sarah Townsend determined that her death is attributable to drowning.

The Burlington County Prosecutor's Office confirmed that the body pulled from Sherman's Pond in the Green Acres Park in Burlington Township on Friday afternoon is that of the Allentown (NJ) High School senior.

Officials say the body was found around 1:15 p.m. by the New Jersey State Police Canine Unit. Chopper 6 HD was over the park around 2:00 p.m. when the search team brought the body to shore.

The discovery came just a few hours after four search teams, including dogs, began an intense search of the 28-acre section of the park.

Those search crews believed that they could conduct a more thorough search since there were fewer people there than earlier this week.

The family has been notified of the discovery, Burlington Township Police Director Walt Corter told Action News.

The area where the body was discovered was also where Sarah's car was found by her boyfriend, Welsh, after Sarah went missing on Monday morning.

The car was still running while parked near Sherman's Pond.

Police say Sarah called her boyfriend to meet her there but she was gone when he arrived.

Authorities on Thursday said that a note in the car raised concerns about Sarah's intentions. It included the words "I'm sorry."

On Friday morning, before her body was discovered, her parents still could not entertain the idea that she hurt herself.

"Sarah was too smart, she was too kind, she has too much going on. She has too big of a heart to do anything like that," said her father, Roy Townsend.

"Nothing sounds right, nothing rings true for our Sarah. It just doesn't make any sense," said her mother, Laurie Townsend.

Police had said earlier that there was no evidence of foul play in Townsend's disappearance.

Townsend's family had put up a billboard that could be seen Friday on Route 206 in Columbus, New Jersey with Sarah's picture.

A $10,000 reward had been offered by her family for her safe return.