A Michigan woman, who was with her 9-year-old twin daughters, drove a Chevrolet Impala down a boat ramp into a still, murky part of the Kalamazoo River late Monday, the authorities said. All three were found dead.
By Tuesday morning, state divers had pulled the last body — one of the daughters — out of the water.
Now, investigators are trying to understand what was behind what they are calling an “unbelievable tragedy.”
“That’s the question, ‘Why?,’” said Chief Karianne Thomas of the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety, which is investigating the deaths. “That’s what everyone wants to know. The family wants to know. I don’t know if we ever will.”
Thomas declined Tuesday evening to name the mother and her girls pending notification of the family. She said the woman, 44, was from the Kalamazoo area but was living in Grand Rapids.
The specific cause of death has yet to be confirmed. The medical examiner is conducting autopsies, Thomas said.
Detectives are trying to figure out what happened just before the woman drove the car into the river. The story still has many holes, Thomas said.
She said there had initially been four children in the car — two other girls, in addition to the woman’s twin daughters. The two girls were related to the woman, but Thomas said she did not know exactly how.
The woman let those two other girls out near the boat ramp, though the authorities do not know exactly why or where, shortly before driving into the river with her daughters, Thomas said. The woman had given them a cellphone and had told them to call their uncle, Thomas said.
The girls were walking on Paterson Street nearby when someone found them and picked them up, Thomas said. That person told the girls’ uncle, and the police, to meet at a nearby Walgreens.
That is when, at about 10:45 p.m. Eastern time, the authorities learned from the girls that, more than an hour earlier, the woman had driven into the water with her daughters.
“It was very difficult for the officers to figure out ‘What are they saying?’ and ‘Did it really happen?’ because it’s so unbelievable,” Thomas said.
Based on what they learned from the girls, the officers decided to look around Verburg Park. Within minutes, they found the car submerged in the river, the authorities said.
Investigators put a boat into the water and, just minutes after that, found the bodies of the woman and one of the daughters. About 8:30 a.m. ET Tuesday, with help from a Michigan State Police dive team, they found the body of the other daughter.
In the daytime, the park is a place where canoers and kayakers slip into the river, which is about 30 feet wide and 5-10 feet deep at that point, Thomas said.
“It’s very mucky there,” she said. “The dive team’s visibility was zero when they got down into that water.”
Thomas said she did not know if the family was buckled in, how fast the car was going or if there was an impact with anything else in the area before the car went into the water.
There were, however, tire tracks on the boat ramp leading into the water, she said.
She said the authorities did not believe anyone else was involved in the deaths.