For nine days, the family of Aaron Cross watched from the banks of the Ocmulgee River as searchers looked for the drowning victim.
Macon-Bibb County firefighters, rangers from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Bibb County sheriff’s deputies braved blustery conditions and cold, swift water as they tirelessly sought to find the 24-year-old who was about to move from Warner Robins to California.
Cross loved the river so much he wanted to take one last swim and went to the Amerson River Park with friends April 1.
To show their appreciation for the dedicated public safety workers, his family presented new equipment to the fire department’s dive team Thursday afternoon to aid in future searches.
A sonar device, a searchlight and two buoyancy compensator vests to strap air tanks to the diver’s back were purchased with $3,000 in donations in memory of Cross.
“They bought the best sonar they could buy,” said Margaret Hickman, Cross’ grandmother.
Dive team member Sgt. Damon Lawson remembers talking to Hickman the first day of the search before DNR brought their sonar-equipped boat.
“She was asking me why we didn’t have one,” Lawson recalled at the fire station Thursday evening. “She said, ‘Maybe we could fix that,’ and she went to work.”
Hickman also wrote a letter to The Telegraph thanking the crews for their hard work, care and concern.
She presented plaques with a copy of that letter to the three agencies involved in the search.
Hickman also plans to thank canine units who guided searchers to her grandson’s body by donating a portion of his ashes to the rescue group.
“They use them for training,” she said.
After cadaver dogs alerted to a specific spot on the river, crews recovered Cross’ body April 9.
Dangerous conditions on the river had prevented divers from going into the water most of those nine days.
The equipment will be mounted on the dive team’s boat and will help find bodies that are often submerged in the murky water of the river or Lake Tobesofkee.
Fire Capt. Tim Johnson said a victim’s family has never honored their work in such a tangible way during his 27 years on the dive team.
“Everything we’ve gotten we’ve purchased through the budget,” Johnson said. “It was really great. She’s such a sweet lady, too.”