Family pleads for community help in finding 18-year-old drowning victim


JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — A heartbroken family is pleading with the community to help search crews recover their 18-year-old loved one who drowned in the Chatfield Reservoir Friday afternoon

“I wish people would have the decency to choose not to go there while the search teams are searching for him and trying to recover his body,” mother Stephanie McAtee said. 

McAtee was preparing to send her 18-year-old son Aric Whitacre to bootcamp in a couple of weeks. 

Whitacre recently enlisted in the Navy after graduating at Mountain Vista High School.

Friday, Whitacre and his close friend hopped in the reservoir on a hot summer day. Witnesses tell his mother they were playing around like teens in waist deep water at the Catfish Flats when they suddenly found themselves approaching an 18 foot drop in the reservoir. 

“Very rapidly it drops to 18- 20 feet,” CPW’s Jason Clay said, adding “It was about 3:25 roughly in the afternoon the call went out, swimmer in the water.”

McAtee doesn’t think her son knew about the sudden drop. She tells FOX31 a nearby boat of people tried to save Whitacre and his friend but could only successfully save the friend.

“We did bring out all of the eye witness yesterday [Saturday],” CPW’s Evidence Recovery Team Leader Jim Hawkins said, adding “We feel pretty confident about the search area it’s just all the issues with milfoil, the ravine, the shallows, and the drop down to 18 feet is making it difficult to search.”

Whitacre’s loved ones created a petition asking to close the reservoir until Whitacre is found. More than 5,600 people have signed the petition.

Search crews have blocked off the area where they believe Whitacre is and where witnesses last spotted him. There is a perimeter of boats and crew members telling people to stay out of the area. 

However, CPW says there is a duty to Coloradans to keep parks open for recreation. 

“Chatfield State Park has well over a million visitors a year,” Clay said, adding “We had over 10,000 visitors yesterday. That would be a lot of logistics that would be very challenging to close down the entire reservoir.

Saturday search crews brought boats, divers and remote operating Sonar vehicles to search the area. Crews have been searching shortly after Whitacre went missing on Friday. 

“They comb through the area of the reservoir and go in a line to make sure every part of the area is touched,” South Metro Fire Rescue’s Connor Christian said. 

With the reservoir still open, loved ones ask that those enjoying the water, please steer clear of the search area.

“So I know that I will be able to cremate him and take him with me,” McAtee said, adding “I would greatly appreciate it.”

A spokesperson with CPW says there have been no past issues with drownings in the drop off area at Catfish Flats. CPW also said it is not possible to put a sign up for every hazard on the lake or in the park. Buoys are located throughout the lake that mark both shallow areas and wake zones.

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