Spring Lake, N.C. — Dive teams and rescue crews from Harnett and Cumberland counties plan to scale back their search overnight for Ca'zhia McMillian, a missing 6-year-old girl who authorities say fell into the Little River on Tuesday afternoon.
About 100 people were involved in the search Wednesday by air, by land and on the water near where a friend said Ca'zhia fell into the water. Tracking dogs helped search the riverbanks, and crews used sonar on the water.
Crews have four boats in the water and are maintaining a command center overnight. They plan to ramp up search efforts at first light Thursday.
The search focused on a 5-mile stretch of the river, and searchers said Wednesday they still considered the effort a rescue operation and not a recovery mission. They said they hold out hope Ca'zhia was safe along the riverbank.
The river was 6 to 8 feet deep, and the water temperature was about 40 degrees, authorities said, making it more difficult for someone in the water to survive than it would be in warmer weather.
"We've had a little bit of change in the river," Flat Branch Fire Chief T.J. McLamb said. "It has dropped since (Tuesday). We're still at 4 or 5 miles per hour as far as the current."
In addition to the current, Harnett County Sheriff Larry Rollins said, debris along the banks of the river also posed a danger to searchers.
"The search area is quite broad. We're looking at all possibilities. We've got boats in a long ways down, as far as we can go downstream," said Maj. Gary McNeill of the Harnett County Sheriff's Office.
Ca'zhia was reported missing at about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday near 229 Woodwind Drive in Spring Lake, off Riverwind Drive. She and a friend were playing on the riverbank when she fell in, according to her aunt, Denise Goins.
Ca'zhia isn't a strong swimmer, Goins said, and all family members could do was hope and pray.
"We've been praying to the Lord. It's terrifying. There's not much talking you can do," Goins said. "It's in the Lord's hands, that's all I can say. Everything is in the Lord's hands."
As the light of day faded Wednesday, family members continued to maintain a constant vigil near the search area.
"We're pretty devastated right now. We just want her to be found,” said Elizabeth McMillian, Ca'zhia's aunt.
“Not knowing is the toughest part right now,” said Ervin McNeill, Ca'zhia's grandfather.
Ca'zhia is a first-grader at Anderson Creek Primary School. Her family said school staff and people throughout the community have been very supportive during this tough time.
Sherry Darrigan lives near the river and runs a nearby convenience store. She said she opened four hours early Wednesday so she could provide fuel and coffee for the rescue workers.
“Everybody tries to pull together during times like this, whether you know the family or not. It’s really a good community and it's kind of like when something happens to their family, it's like it happens to your family,” Darrigan said.