Sawyer Madsen
Sawyer Madsen

November 30, 2016

A toddler with a big smile and an unruly mane of hair died on Thanksgiving, a day after her family found her facedown and unconscious in a whirlpool bathtub in Panora.

Last Wednesday, Panora had served as a central location for the Madsen family, of Lincoln, Nebraska — parents Elena and Joshua and kids Huckleberry, Harper and Sawyer — to meet with family members for Thanksgiving, according to Guthrie County Sheriff Marty Arganbright. They bought a timeshare at Clover Ridge Resort in Panora and, when their 4-year-old daughter, Harper, wanted to play in the condo’s whirlpool tub, 21-month-old Sawyer asked to join in.

In the next room, the family listened as the two girls splashed, played and laughed. Then, Harper began screaming.

Sawyer’s parents found her floating facedown in the tub and immediately removed her from the water and called for help from Panora’s Emergency Medical Services.

Members of Panora’s EMS, fire department and police department, as well as Guthrie County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded and found the toddler unconscious, Arganbright said.

“They worked on her for a long time,” he said.

The toddler was flown in a medical helicopter to Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines and died there the next day. An autopsy determined that drowning had caused her death, Arganbright said.

Sawyer’s sister, Harper, who had been in the tub with her, was unharmed.

An investigation into the drowning continues, and no criminal charges have been filed, Arganbright said.

Sawyer was born prematurely in February 2015 and was a “fighter all her life,” according to her obituary.

The toddler loved skipping stones at a park in Lincoln. Her obituary describes Sawyer’s early-morning habit of holding her parents’ hands and touching her father’s beard.

“Her life was marked with joy, a smile and a mane of hair that won over all who met her,” the obituary states.