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Missing 2-year-old's body recovered from Indiana river; father on 72-hour hold during investigation

"My heart goes out to the family, the friends, and there's a bit of comfort knowing that we have her now," said Sheriff Matt Myers.

BARTHOLOMEW COUNTY, Ind. — The father of a 2-year-old girl found dead in the White River in Bartholomew County is out of the hospital and is now in jail for possible charges. 

Jeremy Sweet, 39, was already awaiting trial on two other cases for possession of methamphetamine and unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon. He was out on bond when his truck was found submerged in the White River.

Sweet is at the Bartholomew County Jail on a 72-hour hold while the investigation continues.

Credit: Bartholomew County Sheriff's Department
Jeremy Wayne Sweet, 39, of Columbus.

A diver found Emma Sweet's body on Sunday downstream from her father's truck.

A forensic autopsy of the toddler will be conducted Monday and results are expected in 4-6 weeks. 

Truck found in the White River

"When I say 'embankment' I'm talking a 15-20 foot earth embankment that he went up over," said Sheriff Myers.

Sheriff's deputies responded to the 1700 block of Blessing Road on the west side of the White River around 6 a.m. Friday for a truck that was in the river. Duck hunters found the truck, which had one person in it, later identified as Jeremy Sweet. 

He was transported to Columbus Regional Hospital for hypothermia. He was still being treated there as of Saturday. 

Credit: Bartholomew County Sheriff
Members of the Bartholomew County Sheriff's Office talk to each other in front of a submerged truck owned by Jeremy Sweet. His daughter, Emma, was reported missing Nov. 24.

Deputies discovered Sweet — along with his 2-year-old daughter — were reported missing Thursday. Police said Jeremy was out of jail on bond after being charged with unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon in May.

He was also charged with possession of methamphetamine.

Credit: Bartholomew County Sheriff's Office
Emma Sweet

Police believe the father was familiar with the area near Beatty Lane on the east side of the river, where they said the truck went off a 15-foot embankment and into the water. When they found Sweet, there was a needle on him, but it's not clear if the needle was related to drugs or medicine. Sweet has been placed on a 72-hour hold to allow officers to further investigate. 

The father told police two stories about his daughter. He initially said he dropped her off but wasn't sure where. He later said she was in the truck with him when he went into the water, and she got wet, so he put her on the hood of the truck and she got swept away by the current.

"One of the two stories was that he did have his 2-year-old daughter Emma with him when he went off the embankment, and when I say 'embankment,' I'm talking a 15-20 foot earth embankment that he went up over," said Myers.

Myers said after hearing Sweet's stories, his office "immediately" reached out to other state and local agencies to ask for help launching a search effort for Emma. 

The extensive search for Emma Sweet & her coat being found downstream

"In the 30 years that I've been involved in law enforcement, I've never seen a group of men and women work as hard as we have to find this young girl for the family," said Sheriff Myers. 

Dive teams with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the Indiana State Police searched the water Friday, looking for the little girl. There were also drones and a state police helicopter searching for her from above.

On Saturday, volunteers joined DNR divers, ISP and several local police and fire departments to continue ground and river search efforts for Emma. Depending on the circumstances, Myers on Saturday said it could likely become a recovery effort, not a rescue.

“All of the agencies have been working together for the common goal of which is to find Emma and bring her home to her family,” said Myers. 

Credit: Russ Govert/WTHR
Indiana Conservation Officers' trucks parked off Beatty Lane south of Columbus, Ind. during the search for 2-year-old Emma Sweet on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.

Police said it was likely Emma was in the water. Search volunteers were hoping for the best and not giving up. 

"An extra set of eyes, man, can make a difference. If it was my kid out here, I'd want somebody out here helping. I'd want everybody out here," said Aaron Christian, a volunteer helping with the search. 

The truck was pulled from the water and searched Saturday around 10:30 a.m.

Some of Jeremy Sweet's items were recovered from the truck. Divers also confirmed Emma wasn't in the truck or in the water underneath it.

However, people walking along the embankment found Emma's coat about two miles downstream from where hunters found her father inside the partially submerged truck. 

"Our detectives had talked to Jeremy on several different occasions, and he had given different stories but it [finding the coat] made us believe that she was in the water with him," said Myers.

The next day, search efforts started back up again. Each day, rescuers held onto hope that they would find Emma. 

Emma Sweet's body found

"This is not about Jeremy Sweet today. This is about Emma and us locating this beautiful child and being able to give her back to her family," Sheriff Myers said. 

Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers, representatives from Indiana State Police and others who helped with the search held a solemn press conference Sunday morning. 

"I promised the family that we would find Emma, and I was confident that with the group of men and women that we had out there searching, that we would find her if she was in the water," Myers said.

Myers announced Emma's body had been found in the river about three miles downstream from where the truck was submerged, which wasn't far from where her coat was found. 

"We got news that a diver located her downstream, and they were able to get her out of the water, and she is now with the Bartholomew County coroner there at the hospital," Myers said. 

Bartholomew County Coroner Clayton Nolting ordered a forensic autopsy for Sweet. The autopsy will be done Monday, Nov. 29 and the results are expected to take about 4-6 weeks. 

The two-year-old from Columbus won several awards in her first national pageant in September in Missouri. Her family was raising money from local sponsors to compete in a national Christmas pageant in two weeks.

Myers again applauded the agencies that helped in the search, as well as volunteers and Emma's family, who were there every step of the way. 

"My heart goes out to the family, the friends, and there's a bit of comfort knowing that we have her now," Myers said.

Fire Chief Dave Thompson released a statement about the rescuers' efforts that said in part: 

"As most of you know, the body of 2-year-old Emma Sweet was recovered from the White River yesterday. Please keep her family in your thoughts and prayers. This was a tragic event with emotional pain that is overwhelming for all.

I would like to say something about our first responders. Unfortunately, tragic events are part of the job. All loss is hard on us, but when it’s a child things change. We all prayed every day this would have a different outcome and Emma would be found safe and sound somewhere. From the time of initial dispatch till dark every day until she was found they didn’t stop physically looking. Sheriff, deputies and detectives worked through the night to gather information that could help us locate her. I’m not looking for praise or thank you. I just would like the residents of Bartholomew County to know what an amazing group of first responders you have in Bartholomew County.  

Emma’s family has suffered a great loss our hearts go out to them first and foremost. Also, keep your first responders in your prayers our hearts are heavy as well. May Emma rest in peace now."

As most of you know the body of 2 year old Emma Sweet was recovered from the White river yesterday. Please keep her...

Posted by Columbus Township Fire & Rescue on Monday, November 29, 2021