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Search ends sadly: Icy Red River yields body of missing woman

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Mike Williams is comforted near the scene of the search for his sister Laura Williams-Jaffe along the Red River in downtown Fargo. David Samson / The Forum2 / 2

Laura Williams-Jaffe grew up a few blocks from the Red River along with nine brothers and sisters.

"This was our playground," her younger brother, Mike Williams, said Friday as he stood in front of the river shortly before a diver recovered his sister's body from beneath the ice.

About 11 a.m., searchers using underwater cameras found what appeared to be a body wearing a white coat in the same spot a bloodhound tracking William-Jaffe's scent had led them.

"It's pretty clear that it's her," said Williams, resignation in his voice. His sister had left her Island Park-area apartment Jan. 28 wearing a white coat. Police had also found footprints leading to the river.

At 12:10 p.m., it became official. After more than a week of searching, including two days with countless holes drilled into the river's ice, they had found her.

Mike Knorr, a diver with Valley Water Rescue, pulled her from about 27 feet below the ice on the North Dakota side of the river near the midtown dam.

Volunteers searched the area Thursday, but needed longer poles to be thorough.

"The holes had already been drilled, we just couldn't get to the bottom to check them" said Pete Fendt, president of Valley Water Rescue. "It's a pretty extensive hole, but she was in that area."

Knorr wore a headlight during Friday's dive and said the lack of current in the area where Williams-Jaffe was found made the dive less difficult technically.

"From an emotional standpoint, it's harder watching the family I think than actually doing the recovery," said Knorr, who has been diving for 33 years.

An autopsy is scheduled for Monday, but authorities have found no signs of foul play in the Fargo woman's death, said Fargo police Lt. Pat Claus.

"We are just regretful that this didn't come to a more happy ending," Claus said.

Williams-Jaffe, 56, left home without her purse, cash, cell phone or back brace, family members said.

Williams, a Fargo city commissioner, said his sister struggled over the past year as her marriage ended and she broke her back in a car accident in October.

"We'd been working and helping her and been loving her, and she just couldn't get over the pain," he said. "She just couldn't find peace this last year."