Woman Found Dead in River

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A woman who went missing after jumping into a California river to save her daughter has been found dead, authorities confirmed this week.

The Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Office reported on Facebook that Brenda Duran, 30, was found dead in the San Joaquin River on Saturday, May 11, 2024. Volunteer diver Juan Heredia located her body, and sheriff’s deputies were informed soon after the discovery.

“We extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Brenda Duran during this time,” the sheriff’s office stated.

The incident occurred on Thursday, May 9 around 6:30 p.m. local time. The local police were alerted to a water rescue at Fisherman’s Bend, near Crows Landing. Upon arrival, deputies learned that Duran had been watching her children play in the river when her 11-year-old daughter started struggling to keep her head above water.

Without hesitation, Duran jumped into the river to save her daughter. However, she quickly found herself in distress, unable to stay afloat. Seeing his mother and sister in distress, Duran’s 14-year-old son leaped into the river to assist.

“I saw my sister faint. I jumped into the river, swam to her, grabbed her, and brought her to safety.” When I tried to find my mom to save her, she was already submerged,” Jaime Aguilar Guzman, Duran’s son, told the local media.

Fortunately, both children were rescued safely and received immediate medical attention from ambulance personnel.

The search for Duran continued for two days until Juan Heredia and his team found her body in the San Joaquin River. The news of her death has left the community in mourning, with many expressing their grief and admiration for her bravery. An autopsy will be done during the week to determine the exact cause of death.

Duran’s story has touched many hearts, highlighting the lengths a mother will go to protect her children. Her heroic actions, though ending in tragedy, have not gone unnoticed.

The Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Office continues investigating the circumstances of the incident. Authorities have not released further details about the rescue efforts or the exact conditions of the river at the time. On Monday, May 13, the Merced County Sheriff’s Office announced that the San Joaquin River would be closed for recreational use due to dangerously high water levels from melting snow in the mountains.

Brenda Duran’s courageous act and the subsequent discovery of her body have prompted an outpouring of support from the local community. Many people have expressed their condolences and honored her memory on social media.

A GoFundMe page created by a family friend to help cover Brenda’s funeral expenses and support other family needs described Duran as “a young mother full of love and laughter.” The fundraiser has already generated over $6800. 

Her husband, Jaime Aguilar, described her as “a very thriving person, always smiling, never giving up, and very compassionate.”

The Heredia family doubles as volunteer diver Juan’s support team, always there decked in full gear, preparing to plunge into the Merced River.

Residing in Stockton, Heredia is motivated by a desire to use his extensive 28-year diving history to offer solace to bereaved families.

On a Monday morning, they established their base along the Merced River’s edge, equipped with their oxygen tanks and diving equipment, on a mission to locate another individual carried off by the river’s swift currents—a mission initiated merely two days after they had recovered Duran’s remains.

“There was a moment when I lost grip of the branch and there was Brenda,” he recalled. “Whether it was yesterday or Saturday, when I was in search of Brenda, I couldn’t see a thing underwater.”

Heredia mentioned that he had to respond to another call to assist in Merced County while his diving equipment was still damp.

Heredia explained the distinctions in diving environments, “It doesn’t matter if you’re in open water, whether you’re a scuba diver, a dive master, or an instructor. Diving in the ocean with clear visibility is entirely different from the conditions we face here.”

Though originally from Argentina and working as a real estate agent between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Heredia isn’t just a diver in his spare time. He continues to keep his certification active with 28 years under his belt, in diving.

Despite having a primary occupation, Heredia believes it’s crucial not to let his diving skills or equipment go unused.

“I believe in my capabilities, my professional experience, and feel it’s necessary to apply my skills actively,” he stated.

The dangers involved are not lost on him.

Several sheriff departments have coordinated efforts with Heredia in the search for individuals who disappear within these waters, voicing their concerns for his safety and hoping to avoid rescuing additional people.

Heredia and his team are offered a reward from the family for finding their missing loved one, yet they choose not to accept it. Their primary motive is to offer closure to grieving families.

Heredia shared with CBS13 that they have managed to gather about $11,000 for the family of Xavier Martinez, a 15-year-old student from Stagg High School, marking his first recovery operation.

He asserted his readiness to respond whenever he is called upon.

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