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Coroner: Jacquelyn Watts died of accidental drowning; police say she was trying to help lost dog

COLUMBUS, Ind. – Columbus police said during a news conference on Monday they believe Jacquelyn Watts died while trying to help a lost dog near the river.

An autopsy of Watts’ body was performed on Monday, and her cause of death was ruled to be an accidental drowning. Police reiterated that no foul play was involved.

According to police, Watts went to Columbus to drop off her dogs and a bunny with family on Friday afternoon.

Witnesses told police they saw a person matching Watts’ description chasing after a small white dog wearing a sweater near the Flatrock River a short time later.

Jacquelyn Watts

Watts was planning to go out of town on a trip with her husband that evening, and when she didn’t return home, her family reported her missing.

Her vehicle was found in the 2300 block of Riverside Drive Friday around 5 p.m. The car was running, the flashers were on, her purse was still inside, and the passenger door was slightly open. Police say there was no sign of a struggle.

Investigators searched the area for Watts, but the river was moving at a very swift pace and it made the search difficult. They found Watts’ body on a sandbar in the river on 8:30 a.m. Saturday morning.

Also on Saturday, a picture of a missing white dog named Ringo began circulating on social media. Officers say witnesses confirmed it was the same dog Watts was seen chasing near the river.

Ringo's body was later found on a bank on the east side of the river.

“The bottom line is we lost a very special person,” Columbus Lt. Matt Harris said. “It’s my understanding that Jackie was the type of person that when there was an animal that was sick, she would take that animal in and provide hospice care.  So to hear someone making the statement that she was trying to help a lost dog and sadly appears she lost her life doing so, that doesn’t seem out of character for her.”

A spokesman for the Watts family John Quick read the following statement:

We are deeply moved that so many of you shared in the effort to help our Jackie. We would like to take this opportunity to tell you about the wonderful woman she was.

In the days following Jacquelyn’s passing we have learned of many kind acts honoring her memory. It has lifted up our hearts to see that Jackie has touched so many lives. Jackie’s compassion for others was evident throughout her life. From her work as a teaching assistant in the Indianapolis Public Schools, as Events Coordinator for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Indianapolis, and through her vocation as a Esthetician, Jackie saw beauty and value in everyone. She was an inspiration to those that knew her. Always placing others before herself, she lived and loved with great humility.

At a young age, Jackie developed a love for animals. To say that this was Jackie’s passion would be an understatement. Jackie volunteered with the Kentuckiana Boxer Rescue and Indy Claw Animal Rescue where she was a member of the board of directors. She also fostered multiple dogs and rabbits. She cared deeply about the wellbeing of animals. If she believed she could help an animal in need, she was going to do so without hesitation. We know that Jackie gave her life for what she believed in.

As her family, we are eternally gratefully for the time that we had with Jackie. During this difficult time, we find solace in the stories of Jackie’s impact on those that knew her, especially the memories that we have of Jackie as a wife, daughter and sister. We will continue to celebrate her life through the memories that she has left in our lives.

“Oh that we would all be filled with enough passion to give our lives for what we believe in.”

IndyClaw Rescue, where Watts worked for five years, posted this touching message on Facebook: