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Prosecutor: Missing Teen Sarah Townsend Drowned In Burlington County Pond

BURLINGTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. (CBS) — The death of 18-year-old Sarah Townsend has been ruled a drowning and there were no signs of foul play on her body

The week-long search for a missing Burlington County teenager came to an end Friday afternoon when her body was discovered in a park police were searching and a post-mortem examination of her body ruled the cause of her death to be drowning.

This was the outcome everyone was praying wouldn’t happen.

Her father and friends gathered at the snack shop where she once worked in her hometown of Florence to grieve.

Sarah Townsend’s dad Roy shed tears as he struggled with close friends who are all mourning the terrible loss of his 18-year-old daughter.

Friends are left in anguish over her death.

“She’s beautiful on the inside and out. She’s very caring and loving, and she’s well liked by everybody,” Debbie’s Snack Shop owner Debbie Partyka said.

Burlington County Public Safety Directory Walter Corter says canine tracking dogs were out in force searching for 18-year-old Sarah Townsend when they picked up a scent in Green Acres Park. The dogs led police back to the pond they had searched earlier in the week.

Corter says at about 1:15 p.m., during their search of the pond, the New Jersey State Police Canine Unit found Sarah’s body.

“Instead of having a large amount of people going through the woods, we just brought the dogs out to see if they can pick up the scent,” Burlington Township police Lt. Bruce Painter said.

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Her distraught boyfriend, Matt Welsh collapsed at the scene and had to be helped away to gain some composure.

A desperate search to find Sarah had been underway since Monday morning when her car was found in the park with the engine running and the driver’s door open.

A billboard with a life-size poster of Sarah and information about a $10,000 reward had just been erected on Route 206 in Columbus, New Jersey. Interstate Outdoor Advertising donated the billboard to Sarah’s family.

“I was hoping she was out there somewhere and she called like ‘I’m here. I’m okay,’ whether she ran away or didn’t want to be found I was hoping she was okay,” said Gabrielle Mercantini of Burlington Township.

Earlier this week police indicated Sarah was having trouble dealing with the status of her relationship with her boyfriend.

An autopsy performed by Burlington County Medical Examiner Dr. Ian Hood determined the cause of death to be attributable to drowning. Burlington County Prosecutors said there were no signs of trauma to her body and no indication that foul play contributed to her death.

The final autopsy determination is pending the results of toxicology tests, which will take several weeks.

For now, family and friends are left morning the loss of a life that showed so much promise.

Reported by Todd Quinones, CBS3; Ben Bowens,

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  • Peter

    You people watch too many tawdry dramas on Lifetime. While you would like to imagine this was some evil boyfriend story the poor girl committed suicide and left behind a family in a whole lot of pain. What girl would leave purse and cell phone in a running car with the door open next to a park pond? One who jumped in the pond to kill herself. Why did the boyfriend go there? Who knows? The place may have held “their place.” Or maybe she gave him some inkling she was going to do something drastic there. If the latter is true, he should have called cops instead of trying to stop it all by himself. But hindsight is a wonderful thing. All I know is you have a grieving family and boyfriend and you folks are saying lots of insensitive things..

  • HF

    So sad, so sorry, but “drowned to death”? Badly written headline.

  • Brittany D'Amaro

    please don’t comment if you don’t know the whole story. matthew welsh, her boyfriend, found her car, after she texted him to meet her at the park. r.i.p. sarah<3

  • Seeuinoz

    She left a note in the car… just wanted to mention that because some of you don’t seem to know that…

    As for the boyfriend… if he had nothing to do with this… and this had to do with a breakup or something… than it’s understandable that the boyfriend would be felling a lot of guilt…

  • Norma Curet Peahota

    I believe the boyfried either knew she was thinking of harming herself or he was involved either way it is sad that a beautiful life has been lost. My prayers goes out to those who has been affected by Sarah’s loss.R.I.P Sarah.

  • J Aaron Anderson

    I agree with B2theRight we should trace evidence back look over e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g and circle back just as they ha to do to w canines even to find her in the pond… Its sad. She like all victims deserve justice! I want to voice concern to now being a new father myself and I pray for their family too… May God grant them some peace if theres any chance of that :(

  • jpdaddy

    The boyfriend did it!

  • Patty B

    Something is very wrong with this scenario. Car running…door open…cell and other belongings left in the car..and suddenly the boyfriend knows where to find the car…What teen-aged girl do you know, goes ANYWHERE with out her cellie and “stuff”? Sounds like a load of bull to me…and yes…daughters rarely tell their mother’s everything…suicide by pond drowning? uh yeah….and I’m Queen Elizabeth….God Bless the family and all those who loved Sarah.

  • Sister Of A Suicide

    Actually those who are serious about suicide oftentimes take great pains to act like nothings wrong so people dont try and stop them

    • aparent too

      This is a sad but true statement. My son was suicidal. I was told to watch him. If he became calm and was suddenly happy, then it was time to really worry.

  • kathy

    you may not think you are being cruel….but you certainly ARE being insensitive. Don’t read the story if you don’t care. Hopefully you will never have to experience such a loss. I just can’t believe you actually signed your full name. Dimwit.

  • kathy

    My thoughts and prayers are with the family in this time of terrible loss. I am very sorry for your loss.

    Unfortunately, I didn’t have a good feeling about this from the beginning. I found it very convenient the boyfriend found her car to report her missing. The aerial views seem to give the impression this park was not on a busy road. Find it very strange that he would just happen upon her running car. I am curious where the police are receiving the information that she was suicidal. I am also curious why the boyfriend didn’t attend the vigil.

  • Mad Mother

    This is a very sad story. My heart goes out to her family.
    I believe the boyfriend murdered her because she wanted to breakup with him. I’m sure he will be arrested in the next two weeks.

  • Sharon

    My sympathy for the Townsends. Mothers know their daughters, and girls are usually talkers. If Sarah were suicidal, she probably would have told her mother or given mother strong clues about being in despair. Plus, who jumps into a pond to kill themselves! That makes NO sense. Furthermore, who would plan to commit suicide by jumping into a pond and NOT even turn off their car and close its door. No one!!! Sarah was murdered. Additionally, how convenient that the “boyfriend” found Sarah’s car with the engine running and the door open within hours of her leaving for school. Plus, he failed to attend the vigil for her. Consciousness of guilt!!! I hope the police investigate him thoroughly.

    • Mari

      I believe the same thing.I do not believe she killed herself. I believe that someone followed her to the park,they approached her,she got scared and took off running and accidentally or purposely jumped into that pond to get away from the perp or perps.I really do hope that Law Enforcement or someone will take the time to investigate this. Even if they find out she was murdered.It is a perfect murder.

    • kathy

      I certainly agree on your points about the boyfriend. But I don’t agree that girls tell their mothers everything. Plenty of teens commit suicide yearly – none tell their parents beforehand.


    I did not no her but i reely am moved by the way burlington has cometogether . And my god bless her soul TIMMER

  • Penny

    Sarah was a classmate in my stepson’s class and a friend of his. In a few weeks she would have been graduating with them. Regardless of the cause, the loss must be indescribable to the parents. Condolences to the family and to the whole Class of 2011 Allentown High School :(

  • Dave

    Why do I need to know that someones dead by showing the covered body! All they have to say is that there was a body found and it could have been her, that’s all.

  • trina

    There is nothing wrong with them zeroing in on the body in a BODY BAG being loaded into a car. They didn’t show the body. It’s really no different than the media covering a funeral procession, both situations the person is deceased the only difference is one is on a stretcher, the other is in a box.

  • ali

    i can only hope this was just a accident maybe the beautiful young lady slipped or fell into the lake i just hope it wasn’t foul play !!!! no ones child should die before there mother or father god bless this family and all the friends of this beautiful young woman who;s life was not long enough may the angels carry her to heaven god bless

  • Pitbull Foster Mommy

    I read this statement in the article

    “Police remain at the park and have the area where the body was located blocked off. Early this afternoon, after news of the discovery spread, a man believed to be Townsend’s boyfriend arrived and attempted to rush the scene. He was stopped by officers.”

    • B2theRight

      Exactly PFM…He cries more than her parents do. Harkens back to Susan Smith when she drown her boys in that car. She cried more than anyone, but turned out to be their killer. Something isn’t right here.

      • Zzbar

        Still remembering Scott Peterson. Like you said, “something isn’t right here”.

      • Patti

        Everyone grieves differently. The parents I’m sure are in deep shock and disbelief. Some cry more readily than others.

      • B2theRight

        No Patty, this is like the Susan Smith case. How can a healthy female drown without there being some type of foul play. Why was her car left running with the DOOR OPEN?! Something stinks to high heaven. His horrific crying spell guilty conscience to me.

      • jay

        Susan Smith’s weren’t real tears – and you could tell. I haven’t seen the boyfriend yet…but definitely am suspicious and have been from the beginning.

  • Tony

    To those who object to the CBS coverage showing the body, etc., they wouldn’t do it if people didn’t watch. You two looked, didn’t you, or you wouldn’t have known about it to object to it.

  • Annemarie

    My heart breaks for Sarah’s family and friends. May God Bless Sarah and all who loved her!!!

  • marykt

    may she rest in peace. whether she took her life or not, I hope they figure out what happened to her. love & prayers to the TOWNSEND family & friends. such a sad day … i live across the street from the park and it’s definitely been a dark week around here, especially now that she’s been found life-less. RIP SARAH ; i hope people are more compassionate towards this event now than they were throughout the week. this whole situation truly upsets me.

  • Dave

    I think its terrible that CBS decides to zero in on the covered body going into the van from a helicopter! There was a blue tarp up on the ground to give privacy from the reporters and others there but good ole CBS using there eye in the sky to zero in on the covered body! Show some respect will ya!

    • marykt

      i totally agree with you – they don’t care, nor do they have any respect… whatever it takes to get that exclusive pictures & footage, they’ll do it! reporters/the media have NO respect for others, especially when they’re going through a hard time… on tv, they showed them lifting the body out of the water.. ridiculous.

      • Pitbull Foster Mommy

        Oh I am so glad I did not (and pray I don’t) see the video of them removing her body from the pond. I understand it is news and everyone wants to know what happened but really? For the family’s sake show them some privacy.

    • trina

      A blue tarp means that the body is still on the ground and has yet to be placed on the stretcher and covered in a body bag. It has nothing to do with privacy from media, they are shielding the body because it had yet to be covered.

  • Pitbull Foster Mommy

    I prayed for many nights that it would not end this way – my heart breaks either way, whether it is Sarah or another young lady – thoughts and prayers to her family and friends. God be with you all.

  • KL

    If it is, indeed, Sarah, may she rest in peace. My thoughts & prayers go out to her family, firiends & other loved ones. God bless.

    If it’s not Sarah, may God bless that soul, as well.

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