The family of a 26-year-old woman says North Carolina Highway Patrol and Iredell County, North Carolina, first responders failed to thoroughly search the area of Garden Valley Road at the South Yadkin River when they received a report about a bridge railing being damaged where 26-year-old Sequoia Cotton would later be found dead inside her car.
On Thursday, December 22, Sequoia Cotton stopped by a friend’s house in Iredell County to pick up Christmas gifts, leaving her friend’s house around 6pm. Sequoia’s sister, Camille Cotton, said she tried calling Sequoia because they had plans to hang out after Camille had gotten off work, but she never heard from Sequoia. The family said they waited and waited and waited, hoping to hear from Sequoia but never did.
“It’s not like her not to talk to nobody in that kind of period of time,” Sequoia’s mother, Celeste Cotton, said. “We waited…we still were looking but waited.”
On December 23, 2022, Sequoia did not show up for work, and that’s when her family realized something was not right and reported her missing to Statesville, North Carolina police.
The family said they did not know that on the night of December 22, 2022, the NC Highway Patroland Iredell County First Responders were at the scene where Sequoia would later be found dead inside her vehicle.
When officials arrived, they searched and used drones but claimed they didn’t see anything in the water and did not search the waters to see if someone may have driven in the river, causing the railing damage.
On December 24, 2022, a day before Christmas, Sequoia still had not been found, and her family was still searching for the 26-year-old. It was when the friend Sequoia visited on December 22, drove to the bridge, a couple of miles from her house, and searched the area looking for any clues or evidence of Sequoia. When the friend got there and started searching, she found Sequoia’sfavorite stuffed animal in the water.
Sequoia’s other sister, Ebony Dawkins, said when they got to the bridge, they saw the stuffed animal and glare from the other side of the river.
The family called 911, and first responders returned to the scene they had searched two days prior and located Sequoia and her car in the same river; they claimed they didn’t see anything in when they searched, including using a drone.
“If they would have done their job, we probably wouldn’t be so frantic now,” Sequoia’s mom, Celeste Cotton, said.
North Carolina Highway Patrol said in a statement: “First responders decided due to the temperature of the water, the depth of the water, the risk to first responders, and because they could not pinpoint exactly where to look, they made the decision not to go into the water at that time.”
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