The search was suspended at 7:33 p.m. local time Sunday after the Coast Guard and other agencies searched more than 93 miles of river. The total effort encompassed 55 work hours.
Since the Coast Guard participates in rescue missions, not searches to recover bodies, the decision delivered a blow to the families of the children hoping that the missing 15-year-old boy, 14-year-old girl and 8-year-old girl would be found alive. WWL-TV previously reported that the three minors were spotted going into the water in the historic New Orleans neighborhood of Algiers located on the West Bank of the Mississippi River.
"The decision to suspend any search and rescue case is never easy, but considering the extensive search efforts of our Coast Guard men and women, in conjunction with other response agencies, I’ve made the difficult decision to suspend our active search for the three children," Capt. Kelly Denning, the Coast Guard’s New Orleans sector commander, said Sunday, according to The New Orleans Advocate. "Our prayers are with the families during this difficult time."
Family members said the 14-year-old girl and the 8-year-old were sisters, The Advocated reported. The 15-year-old boy was reportedly the elder girl's boyfriend.
The girls’ father, Allen Berry, said it was the first time his younger daughters were allowed to venture out without adult supervision. "My babies are in there," he said Sunday morning, gesturing to the river as family members gathered on a levee near the location where the children reportedly fell into the water.
His sister and the girls’ aunt, Nedra Berry, said the girls were permitted to go out with the 15-year-old boy and other children because their mother, who has a heart condition, needed to go to the hospital.
"I'm at a loss for words," she said, according to The Advocate. "That's the most painful thing I ever heard was a man cry out for his kids."
Relatives said the 14-year-old girl slipped on a piling by the water’s edge near Lamarque Street at about 5 p.m. Saturday.
The 15-year-old boy and 8-year-old girl rushed over to help, but they also fell into the water. The boy’s 6-year-old brother, who was with them, then ran to get help and their mother, who has some military swimming training, went into the water searching for the missing minors. But she had to turn back due to rocks and debris in the river, the newspaper reported.
Units involved in the search included a Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew, two Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team New Orleans boat crews, a Coast Guard Cutter Sawfish crew and a Coast Guard Station New Orleans boat crew.
The New Orleans police and fire departments assisted in the search, and the state and St. Charles and Jefferson parish agencies also contributed resources.
Fox 8 Live reported that the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority shut down the Canal Street/Algiers Ferry amid the search. The ferry was supposed to operate under extended hours to accommodate large crowds attending the French Quarter Festival, but as crews searched the water, shuttle buses instead carried riders between the east and west banks.