Authorities came up empty again Sunday in the fourth day searchers scoured the Rock River for missing 9-year-old Janesville girl Madison Billups.
The search so far has been fruitless for dozens of searchers who have canvassed waters for more than 60 hours off and on since Thursday night, when Billups was believed to have been swept into a strong current in the river just west of Monterey Bridge in Janesville.
Capt. Mark Thompson of the Rock County Sheriff’s Office said multiple local fire departments and other police and public safety officials Sunday continued a sonar search from boats in a 9-mile stretch of river between Janesville and the town of Beloit.
Over the weekend, boat crews with divers and cadaver-sniffing dogs at first focused a search in the waters near Angler’s Park west of the Monterey Bridge, where Madison was last seen Thursday.
The search Saturday and Sunday expanded to deeper waters farther south. Thompson said the sheriff’s office, which has been at the helm of the multiday operation, plans to resume searching Monday.
Search crews looking for the 9-year-old Janesville girl missing in the Rock River since Thursday say they’re shifting focus to deeper parts of the river between Janesville’s south side and Afton.
“We’re going to have one of our boats and a fire boat out here. Probably the next day beyond that, too. We will still have boat activity in the area. Sonar, visual searches. But we are having no luck at this point,” Thompson said.
At Anglers Park, dozens of Madison’s family members have held a vigil since Thursday night.
It appeared the family was beginning to come to grips with a search authorities said since Friday afternoon has been considered a recovery effort rather than a water rescue.
On Sunday, family had set up a memorial on a sapling tree. One message written on a few heart-shaped signs that hung among balloons and stuffed animals tied to the tree read: “I love you Maddie Patty. I will never forget your soft voice and vibrant smile.”
Another message read: “Rest with the Angels. Never be forgotten.”
Family and police said Madison was thought to be holding onto her 13-year-old brother as the two waded out into the river and onto a sandbar near one of the train trestle bridges west of the Monterey Bridge.
Janesville police initially responded to reports that two bystanders fishing nearby saw Madison and her brother slip off the sandbar and onto large rocks in a drop-off where a strong current and undertow sweeps out of the river’s main channel.
One of the bystanders, an unidentified woman, apparently tried to pull both children from the current, but Madison slipped loose and went under in the current, police indicated.
Over the weekend, the Anglers Park area was a hot spot of activity where searchers initially had set up a command post and focused their search on waters there.
Police and local fire departments had cordoned off the riverfront at Angler’s Park for much of the weekend, but by Saturday, about 40 relatives of Madison’s had gathered under sun shades and a park shelter to hold a vigil at the park.
Family members described Madison as being small and petite for her age but spirited and “inseparable” from her siblings, including the older brother she apparently went with into the water.
Gail Billups, who said she is Madison’s aunt, said family members had been struggling with raw emotions all weekend. Some family traveled from Detroit and Chicago to join a vigil at the park over the weekend.
Residents brought the family food and water during what was a long, harrowing weekend, and the family worked together with residents who volunteered to help the family scour the river banks and overhanging trees as divers searched the open waters.
“That was a blessing. I didn’t even know this community cared this much,” Gail Billups said.
Janesville Police Deputy Chief Terry Sheridan on Friday said the stretch of river near Anglers Park is shallow but with a current that’s “dangerous.” Conditions there are treacherous enough that searchers ordered the dam shut at Indianford to draw down the river so divers could more safely scour the bottom for signs of Madison.
Thompson said searchers measured the undertow near Angler’s Park at “more than 7 miles per hour”—a speed he said even trained rescue divers find unsafe.
“It’s a rough area,” he said.
Andre Billups, who said he is the girl’s great uncle, believes the city should put a fence up along the river south of the Monterey Bridge to keep people back from swift waters he said are dangerous and “can get you worse than fire can get you.”
The city has earmarked the stretch west of the Monterey Bridge as a family recreational area geared toward fishing.
Billups said the river conditions in that stretch have changed after the city last year tore out the Monterey Dam, a spillway that had dammed up the river upstream for decades.
Downriver on the city’s south end and into the towns of Rock and Beloit, where the search continued Sunday, the river is deeper and less turbid. But Thompson said conditions for a water search aren’t much easier than near Monterey Bridge.
“This is a different type of river. There is a main channel that runs through it, but it goes from rocky bottom to sandy bottom to trees, big stumps, and back to rocks. It’s constantly changing. There’s all different types of bottoms and ever-changing depth, and the channel runs different speeds at different locations. So that obviously adds to the complexity for a search here,” he said.
On Sunday afternoon, Gail Billups sat with a half-dozen family members at Anglers Park. She said she hoped the sheriff’s office would continue the search for her niece until she’s found.
She and other family members have been at Anglers Park nearly around the clock since Thursday night. She pointed to her vehicle parked nearby.
“I’m laid up in that van at night. I sleep there. I stay here,” she said. “I’m not leaving. I’ll wait here for them to come up and say they found something.”
A Green County man who killed a man in his south-side Janesville driveway last year could be 70 years old before he is released from prison.
Lucas E. Stuhr, 40, nearly emptied the magazine of his 9 mm handgun as he shot Clifford A. “Tony” Grice on Jan. 23, 2019, said Assistant District Attorney Mason Braunschweig during Stuhr’s sentencing Friday in Rock County Court.
Judge Barbara McCrory sentenced Stuhr, of Browntown, to 30 years in prison, followed by 15 years of extended supervision, on a charge of second-degree intentional homicide. The maximum was 40 years plus 20 years of supervision.
Stuhr pleaded guilty to the charge after it was reduced from first-degree intentional homicide, which would have meant a life sentence.
Grice was described as a loving father who was a recovering alcoholic who had been sober for a number of years. His daughters wrote that Grice tried to see the good in people, a trait they said they tried to emulate, McCrory said.
Some of Grice’s relatives, either in tears or angrily, called for the maximum sentence.
They spoke during the hearing, which was streamed on YouTube. Their faces were not shown. Grieving loved ones have been identified in the past, but they no longer will be because of the state Constitution change, which voters approved in the April referendum known as Marsy’s Law.
“They are entitled to their privacy. They did not come into the criminal justice system by choice,” District Attorney David O’Leary, co-prosecutor in the case, said in an email.
One relative said Grice was the family’s “rock” when his younger brother died. She asked for the maximum sentence, “since no amount of sentence will ever be able to bring our son and father back into our lives again.”
A man identified as Grice’s brother said he lost two brothers in eight months and suffered severe emotional distress.
“I can forgive, but I will never forget what you have taken from my family,” the man said. “... I hope this rots in your brain for the rest of your life.”
The state Department of Corrections recommended a sentence of 25 to 30 years plus 15 years of supervision. Defense attorneys Walter Isaacson and Jason Sanders recommended 15 plus 15.
Braunschweig recommended the maximum but asked McCrory not to go below 30 plus 15.
“Anything less than that, I don’t think it would justify the death of Mr. Grice,” Braunschweig said.
Psychological assessments showed a low chance of Stuhr committing another violent crime, but Braunschweig said he doubted the assessments’ ability to predict in this case, especially because of a 2008 case in which Stuhr was convicted of battery for an attack in a similar situation with a different girlfriend.
Isaacson told of relatives and others who knew Stuhr as hard-working and well-liked.
“The shooting of Mr. Grice was way out of character and completely unexpected by anyone who knows Lucas,” Isaacson said.
Isaacson suggested Stuhr was suffering mental health problems, in part because he blamed himself for the death of his cousin in a traffic crash.
McCrory said Stuhr was diagnosed as suffering from a major depression, anxiety and having traits of post-traumatic stress.
Stuhr apologized, saying he thinks about what he did every day.
“It’s not the man I am, and the people that are closest to me know this is not who I am. I pray every day for forgiveness. I will pray for Tony the rest of my life.”
Grice, of Janesville, was 41 when he died.
A woman who was sitting in a car next to Grice when he was shot told police she had lived with Stuhr and had an on-again, off-again relationship with him. She said Stuhr had repeatedly threatened to kill Grice after he found out about her relationship with Grice, according to the criminal complaint.
McCrory said she believed Stuhr is remorseful, but she noted that on the day of the murder, Stuhr had opportunities to walk away.
President Donald Trump, confronted with a damaging report that Russia offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill American and allied troops in Afghanistan, declared Sunday on Twitter that he was never briefed about the finding by U.S. intelligence.
Democrats including Trump’s prospective presidential rival, Joe Biden, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sharply criticized Trump’s seeming indifference to the explosive report in Friday’s New York Times. Neither Trump nor other administration officials have specifically denied the report, which has since been confirmed by several other outlets.
On Sunday, Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming joined in the criticism, saying that if the information was genuine, the White House needed to explain why Trump was not told and why the administration has done nothing in response.
The core of the story is that U.S. spy agencies concluded several months ago that a Russian military intelligence unit had offered secret bounties for attacks on coalition troops. The matter was discussed in late March by the National Security Council, and European allies including Britain were also made aware of the findings, the story said.
The report hit the White House at an already troubled juncture. Multiple national polls show Biden outpacing Trump, and the president and his team have struggled to craft a coherent message amid a drumbeat of bad news: a surge in U.S. coronavirus cases that now exceed 2.5 million, the resulting economic carnage and the fallout from massive racial-justice protests that followed the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Sunday, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who helped run Trump’s 2016 campaign, said on ABC’s “This Week” that “he will lose” his re-election bid “if he doesn’t change course, both in terms of the substance of what he is discussing and the way that he approaches the American people.”
So far, the White House response to the story has not been to lay out any response to Russia but simply to insist that Trump had not been personally briefed.
The office of Trump’s handpicked director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe—who has been in his post for only a month and was a controversial choice because of his lack of relevant experience and his avid partisanship as a congressman from Texas—released a statement late Saturday saying that neither Trump nor Vice President Mike Pence was “ever briefed on any intelligence” described in the story.
But intelligence experts suggested that the White House defense appeared to be largely a semantic one, perhaps resting on the material being included in the written daily intelligence brief that the president is known to avoid reading, rather than presented to him orally.
David Priess, a former CIA analyst and intelligence briefer, described several scenarios under which Trump and those about them could have been made aware of the assessment. The striking part, he said in a Twitter posting, was that the White House had not addressed the substance of the report, nor publicly expressed determination to get to the bottom of it.
“Why hasn’t the commander in chief responded to such a grave development?” he asked.
Trump, who spent Sunday at his Virginia golf property, referred in a pair of tweets to the “so-called attacks on our troops,” attacked the report as “Fake News” and wrote that “nobody briefed me or told me.”
But while avoiding a direct denial of the report’s underlying assertions, the president seemed to suggest the information might not trouble him much even if true.
“There have not been many attacks on us,” he wrote.
At least nine U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan this year, and 20 last year, out of nearly 2,400 American military fatalities in the course of the long conflict.
Biden hit Trump on the issue Saturday, saying that if the report was true, Trump’s inaction represented “a betrayal of the most sacred duty we bear as a nation, to protect and equip our troops when we send them into harm’s way.”
The former vice president described the episode as a continuation of Trump’s “embarrassing campaign of deference and debasing himself” before Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Biden, whose campaign is centered on virtual appearances because of the coronavirus pandemic, made his remarks at an online town hall.
Pelosi, interviewed Sunday on “This Week,” said the Russian bounty report revived longstanding questions about Trump’s affinity for Putin, which date back to U.S. intelligence findings that Moscow interfered on his behalf in the 2016 presidential election.
Trump has on many occasions gone out of his way to publicly defer to the Russian leader, and in recent weeks, he has pressed to restore Russia to the meetings of the Group of Seven leading industrial nations, from which it was excluded after its invasion of Crimea in 2014.
“This is as bad as it gets, and yet the president will not confront the Russians on this score,” Pelosi said of the bounty report, suggesting that the president might be behaving under some sort of duress.
“I don’t know what the Russians have on the president—politically, personally, financially, or whatever it is,” said the San Francisco Democrat. “Now he is saying this is fake news—why would he say that? Why wouldn’t he say, ‘Let’s look into it and see what this is?’”
Cheney, writing on Twitter, said the White House needed to disclose “who did know and when?” about the intelligence assessment, and to detail “what has been done in response to protect our forces & hold Putin accountable.”
Former national security adviser John Bolton, who was ousted from the White House last September, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that Trump’s “fundamental focus” was not on national security, or protecting American troops.
“So what is the presidential reaction?” asked Bolton, author of a scathing White House memoir.
“It’s to say, ‘It’s not my responsibility. No one told me about it.’”
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