Autistic girl, 9, found dead at bottom of FLA pond

April 7, 2012 - 9:35 PM

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — A 9-year-old autistic girl who went missing from a children's party was found dead Saturday evening at the bottom of a nearby pond in west-central Florida.

The Hillsborough County sheriff's office reported that the body of Ariyanna Pivachek was found at 6:46 p.m. EDT in about six to eight feet of water after a massive search. The preliminary cause of death is accidental drowning, officials said.

The child was in foster care and had been picked up Saturday by a family that was considering adopting her, authorities said in a news release. They took her to attend a party with eight other children, and though eight adults were supervising, the child managed to leave the house at around 3:10 p.m.

Authorities were notified shortly afterward, and the sheriff's office launched a search with assistance from 50 deputies, bloodhounds, helicopters and marine divers in the Summerfield subdivision outside Tampa.

The community "is dotted with numerous ponds that are often deep and have zero visibility," the sheriff's office said in a news release. "During the search, numerous Uniformed Patrol Deputies shed their gun belts and dove in the murky pond waters trying desperately to find the child and assist the divers."

The sheriff's office also issued alerts and numerous citizen volunteers turned out to assist in the search.

Searchers focused on a pond that is about 50 feet from the house where the party was held. After about an hour of searching, divers located the child's body at the bottom, about 15 feet from shore.

Detective Larry McKinnon called the child's death a "tragedy" and said many deputies were broken up by her death, especially on the eve of Easter Sunday.

Authorities said the investigation is continuing.