Cadaver dog, dismantle dock among options in drowning

One week after a 2-year-old boy fell into the Mississippi River at Schwiebert Riverfront Park in Rock Island, the somber search for his body continues.

Family members of Hawk Newberry feel strongly that his body was not swept away by the river’s current and is instead stuck under the city-owned dock. A diver was trapped by some debris under the dock during the first days of the search, and Newberry’s great uncle, John Bell, said many in the family feel strongly the boy’s remains are trapped there, too.

“I’m three-quarters American Indian, and I believe what the spirits are telling me — he’s still right here,” Bell said.

Bell’s son, John Robert Bell, is so convinced his cousin’s remains are under the dock, he spent nearly six hours in the water Monday afternoon and evening, pulling large logs from under the dock.

“I was being real safe,” he said. “I have good hand strength, and I was holding onto the structure under there. I was also in the military, so I have some training.”

Asked whether he was prepared to find the boy’s body, he replied, “I am ready to find him. I am prepared. Dad and I — if we find him — we’ll both feel like heroes to our family. I think we’re getting help from the spirit of my grandfather.

“We need this to end. We need to have a funeral.”

On Tuesday morning, several members of the Rock Island Fire Department were back at the park after suspending their search by boat the previous day. The firefighters cleared the dock of logs and driftwood recovered by John Robert Bell, then removed the decking panels on the dock’s surface to reveal and remove more debris.

“We did some searches with poles in some of the hidden spaces,” Fire Chief Jeff Yerkey said Tuesday.

City officials have said they are studying the blueprints and design of the docking system, which is not removed from the river during the off-season, to determine the best way to dismantle portions of it.

“It’s possible that could help,” Yerkey said. “It would be a huge challenge for public works or the fire department to do that (dismantle it).

“Maybe we can remove the wood skirt panels. But even if they’re unbolted, they’re very heavy. We’re not sure what we would do with them, then.”

Bell and other family members have said they think Hawk’s body is trapped amid debris that is caught against the dock skirting, which is in place to reduce the impact of waves.

The chief and Mayor Mike Thoms said several city departments are organizing a meeting to be held Wednesday to talk about what search options remain. One possibility is bringing in a cadaver dog, because the animals have proven effective at locating underwater remains.

“I know everybody’s still working on it,” Thoms said Tuesday. “We’re trying to get enough heads together to figure out the next step.

“We don’t want people to think we’re dilly-dallying around, but we have to do it in a safe way.”

The goal, he said, is to have a planning meeting on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, in addition to his great uncle and cousin, Hawk’s mother, grandparents and other family members return daily to the dock.

“We’re going to get a 50-gallon barrel, pull up the panels and pull more debris out of there,” Bell said. “We’ll pull more out and see if he’ll surface. My son’s been doing everything he can. I went back to work, but my boss told me to leave when I got a call that it looked like they’d found something.

“I gotta get back to work. I tell you: This is hard on everybody. We need that little boy.”

Hawk’s paternal grandmother, Ladina Bell, said she hasn’t been able to eat or sleep since the accident. She has been warned by her doctor, she said, that she may require hospitalization soon.

“I’m not going anywhere until we find him,” she said. “We need to have a funeral. We have to find him.”

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