Watts died of accidental drowning, the coroner revealed, according to The Indianapolis Star.
Jackie Watts, who was a licensed aesthetician at a spa and salon, was supposed to go with her husband to the airport for a trip to Washington D.C., her sister-in-law said, but she never showed up. She is also known as Jacqueline Watts.
Police said March 5 that they do not suspect foul play in Watts’ mysterious death. On March 6, they revealed that a woman matching the description of Watts – who was well known in animal rescue circles – was seen by a witness “chasing a small white dog near the river,” CBS News reported. “Authorities came across a social media post announcing a search for a lost dog named Ringo that matched the description,” according to CBS.
The 33-year-old Indiana woman’s disappearance was initially treated as a missing person’s case, but police have now found her body on the river sandbar. According to the Indianapolis Star, police have not classified Watts’ death a homicide. An autopsy was conducted Monday.
“At this point, we’re not sure,” police initially said in a news conference, when asked whether Watts met with foul play or fell in the river. “The investigation is very early on, but we will look at every angle.” They now think Watts died trying to save the dog.
The woman’s body was found about 121 miles from where two teenagers, Liberty German and Abigail Williams, were killed while hiking, which spurred social media rumors that police tried to bat down, but there is no indication of any connection between the cases.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Watts’ Car Was Found Running With Her Cell Phone & Purse Inside
“URGENT! PLEASE READ – MISSING IN COLUMBUS, INDIANA- My family needs your help, ears, eyes, support and prayer,” Jen Watts Barrie, Watts’ sister-in-law, said in a post on Facebook before Jackie’s body was found.
“My sister in law, Jackie, has been missing since this afternoon. She and my brother were flying to DC tonight for a visit, and she didn’t come home to meet Michael and go to the airport,” Barrie wrote.
“She dropped their dogs off at my parents’ house and rabbit off at her parents’ house and no one heard from her afterward. Her car has been located in Columbus, IN, running, with her cell phone and purse inside and the passenger side door open. PLEASE PLEASE view her picture, jog your memories and ask others to take a look. Please pray and send good thoughts. We love her and need her home safe and sound.”
According to WIBC, “Watts’ car was discovered around 5 p.m. Friday in the 2300 block of Riverside Drive, not far from 22nd and Washington Streets in Columbus” and it was left running with the flashers on.
2. Watts’ Body Was Found on a Sandbar in the Flatrock River & She Was Remembered as a Person Always Smiling
According to Fox 59, police said on the morning of March 4 that they had located Watts’ body.
The young woman was found on a sandbar in the Flatrock River in Columbus, Indiana, reported the television station.
Columbus Police had reported on Facebook that they were searching for Watts. They wrote, “Columbus police officers are currently searching for a woman reported missing by her family earlier this afternoon. Missing is Jacqueline Watts, 33 years of age. She is 5’5″ tall and 110 pounds. She has blonde hair and brown eyes. She was last seen wearing black stretch pants and a gray shirt. Her vehicle was located in the 2300 block of Riverside Drive in Columbus…Law enforcement officers and police K-9’s are currently searching the immediate area. The public is asked to avoid the area at this time.”
Police said they commissioned a helicopter and then started a ground search, locating the body one hour after the latter. “She was located on a sandbar on the Flatrock River,” the police said in a news conference,of Watts. “At this point, there are many more questions than we have answers,” the police said, citing the “stage of the investigation.”
Police said the family did not wish to make any statements to the news media at this time. One friend, news anchor Nicole Pence (the niece of Vice President Mike Pence), posted on social media: “Jackie was a very kind person, always smiling. She will be greatly missed by many people.” She also wrote, “I went to high school with Jackie and her husband and sister-in-law. Praying for everyone!!!!”
3. Watts Was Supposed to Meet Her Husband for a Trip to DC & Worked at a Spa
Watts’ Facebook page is filled with photos with her husband, Michael. His Facebook profile picture is also a photo of the couple together.
Many photos of the couple show them on boats or with their pets. According to The Republic, “Jacqueline and her husband Michael were planning to fly to Washington D.C. Friday night for a visit but Jacqueline did not return home to Indianapolis to meet her husband and go to the airport.”
Friends expressed grief on social media.
According to The Republic, Watts and her husband “are originally from Columbus — her mother-in-law Sandy Watts recently retired as a Parkside School teacher. Watts is a 2002 Columbus East High School graduate.”
Watts’ LinkedIn page says she was a licensed aesthetician at Evan Todd Spa and Salon and a graduate of the Evan Todd Spa and Salon Honors Beauty College as a skincare specialist. She received a bachelor’s degree in early childhood and teaching from Butler University in 2007.
4. Watts, Who Was Involved in Animal Rescue Efforts, May Have Died Trying to Save the Dog
Police revealed they think Watts did not meet with foul play. According to The Republic, authorities were awaiting the results of an autopsy before saying more about how Jackie died and in what way.
On Monday, they unveiled the dog chasing theory. Police said the witness reported seeing a woman matching Jackie’s description chasing a small dog who was wearing a sweater, which matches the description of Ringo, according to The New York Daily News. The news site reported that police also recovered the body of Ringo on a river bank.
At a police press conference, Watts’ family read a statement that said in part, “At a young age Jackie developed a love for animals. To say that this was Jackie’s passion was an understatement,” the Daily News reported. According to The Indianapolis Star, Watts “also served as a teaching assistant at Indianapolis Public Schools and as an events coordinator for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Indianapolis.”
One woman had claimed on social media early on that Watts fell into the river while trying to chase down a stray dog, as she was involved in animal rescue efforts, and that the death is thus an accident.
An animal rescue group posted a tribute to Watts on Facebook, writing, “Jackie Watts had been with our rescue for 5 years, I believe, and was a member of our Board of Directors. She was so excited when we finally decided to go 501c3 last year and was the first one to respond ‘I can be there!’ last week in a group text to check out a venue for our first big fundraiser. Jackie was always taking home the really sick bunnies that she could nurture back to health, and if that wasn’t possible, she would many times keep them to their end. Even adopting a pair post mortem that she so dearly loved and nursed until they died. Just yesterday, Jackie was sitting on the floor of the Bunny Barn trying to help me give fluids to a long time bunny we believe to have cancer. Like me, Jackie discovered poor Laverne was like Swiss cheese and the fluids would just not stay with her. Jackie loved on Laverne and apologized to her for not taking her home this past week, so Laverne could see what it was like being in a real home.”
TheINDYChannel reported that police say they consider the death “suspicious,” however. But that account appeared debunked by Sunday.
According to the Republic, the location where her body was found is about a half hour from where the car was abandoned. The spot has residential homes that line the river, and Jackie was found as the result of a group search, the news site reported.
Asked whether there was a search for a suspect, police said they could not comment yet. “At this point, we don’t know how Jacqueline died,” police said in the news conference, stressing that Columbus, Indiana is a safe community.
5. Police Derided False Reports on Social Media, Which May Include the German & Williams Case
The Columbus Police Department asked people to stop sharing false reports about the case on social media.
“There are false reports circulating on social media that officers have located an injured person in the woods. This is not true. Our officers are continuing to search the area for Mrs. Watts,” police wrote on Facebook before they announced they had found Watts’ body.
Police later posted, “Our detectives are continuing their investigation into death of Jacqueline Watts at this hour. We continue to see posts on social media speculating on specifics of the case. We ask that the public be mindful of the comments they make online. We appreciate the concern and support from the community and will release accurate updates as the investigation progresses.”
Police did not mention the Liberty German and Abigail Williams deaths, which remain unsolved, but the UK Daily Mail says, “the press officer referenced a false rumor about a bloodied woman walking out of the woods. This also may have been in reference to rumors surrounding the two teens who were found murdered along Deer Creek in Delphi, which is about an hour north of Indianapolis.”