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Search for flood victims Mattie, Conrad Sheils continues in Upper Makefield


Poor weather conditions dealt a Wednesday setback to efforts in Upper Makefield to locate two children missing since Saturday when a sudden and violent flash flood stopped their parents’ car and washed them away as they tried to reach high ground.

The search for Matilda (Mattie) Sheils, 2, and Conrad Sheils, 9 months, of South Carolina, has captured widespread attention and left the community hoping against hope that the children will be brought home to father Jim Sheils and their 4-year-old brother Jack.

The Sheils children’s mother — Katie Seley — was one of five stranded motorists whose bodies have been recovered in the wake of the flood.

Bucks County Coroner Meredith Buck on Monday afternoon identified the others as Enzo Depiero, 78, and Linda Depiero, 74, of Newtown Township; Yuko Love, 64, of Newtown Township; and Susan Barnhart, 53, of Titusville N.J.

Buck said the cause of death was accidental drowning in all cases, and noted that Love also sustained multiple injuries. All exited their vehicles in an effort to reach safety.

At a Tuesday press conference, Upper Makefield Fire Co. Chief Tim Brewer stressed that the motorists did not get stuck because they drove into the water.

"The water found them," he said.

Delaware Riverkeeper Maya van Rossum echoed those sentiments in a statement.

“The victims of this catastrophic event bear no responsibility — this is not a situation that involved a decision regarding wearing a life preserver, to advance construction within a floodplain, or remaining in a building after being warned by emergency services to leave,” she said. “ This is a horrifyingly sad catastrophe and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network grieves with the victims.

The deaths have devastated multiple families in the area and touched some members of the rescue teams personally.

“We, at the Upper Makefield Township Police Department, personally knew Susan Barnhart since she worked at the Washington Crossing Post Office,” police said in a statement Wednesday. “She was always so welcoming and kind to us and we will miss her deeply.”

A pair of vigils have been scheduled. The first is tonight at 7 p.m. at Washington Crossing United Methodist Church, which has served as a command post and media site throughout the week.

The second will be held at 7 p.m. Sunday and the 9-11 Memorial Garden of Reflection in Lower Makefield.

The Sheils family was visiting Bucks County from Charleston S.C. and headed to a barbecue.

Speaking at Monday afternoon's press conference, Jim Sheils' brother-in-law Scott Ellis called it a "horrific tragedy" and that the family was "utterly devastated."

He expressed gratitude to the rescuers for their dedication to the search and credited them with "compassion, kindness and bravery."

"We're thankful that they were able to save so many others," Ellis said.

The worst of the flooding happened along Houghs Creek, inland from the Delaware Canal, along Route 532 near Stonebridge Crossing Road. That roadway intersects with Route 532 between Aqueduct and Wrightstown roads. That had been the focal point for an ever-widening search.

“Every effort will be made to bring these beautiful children home to their families,” the Upper Makefield Township Police Department said in a Facebook post.

That, the statement said, meant teams on foot, drones, divers and sonar technology were all being brought to the search.

The department characterized the event as “a mass casualty incident the likes of which we have not seen before.”

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro visited the scene on Sunday afternoon to thank the first responders and promise that his administration would do what it could to aid the community recovery effort.

Even five days after the flood a number of road closures are still in effect near Washington Crossing.

“Taylorsville Road is closed between Aqueduct Road and Rt. 295 due to storm related damage,” police said. “Rt. 532 is also closed between Wrightstown Road and Meadowview Drive due to storm damage”

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