Family of Susan Clements thanks search teams after week long effort in Smokies

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Travis Dorman, Knoxville News Sentinel

The family of Mitzie Sue “Susan” Clements, whose body was found in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park late Tuesday afternoon, a week after she disappeared while hiking with her daughter, issued a statement Wednesday.

“I want to specifically thank the National Park Service for their incredible efforts. The cooperation shown between more than 50 agencies was amazing, comforting, and very supportive,” reads the statement, provided by the park.

“Every piece of the operation, including the scientific fronts, logistical parts, and the emotional support provided to us was very impressive.

“The children, her sisters, and I want to especially thank Jared St. Clair (Chief Ranger), Joe Pond (Incident Commander), James Latendresse (Operations Chief), and Florie Takaki (Family Liaison) for their dedication and support. We also want to thank the countless other people who helped look for Susan. This includes the ground searchers, pilots, drone operators, dog trackers, technicians, EMS providers, the many teams of tactical climbers and rescuers, and the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. The kids, her sisters, and I greatly appreciate the intense work they performed for us, and we will be eternally grateful.”

Exhaustive search with 175 assisting

Clements, a 53-year-old mother of three from Cleves, Ohio, had been missing since Sept. 25, when she and her daughter became separated during a hike on the Forney Ridge Trail.

The daughter hiked ahead and lost sight of Clements about 5 p.m., then reported her missing roughly three hours later, according to park spokeswoman Julena Campbell.

The Clingmans Dome area received more than 5 inches of rain over the first couple of days, making it difficult for searchers to find tracks and canine teams to pick up on scents, Campbell said. Fog further complicated early search efforts, and rangers reported struggling with “incredibly low visibility” as they navigated the treacherous terrain, she added.

 

Cash: ‘We are grieving with the family’

In a statement Wednesday, Smokies Park Superintendent Cassius Cash offered his condolences to the family, friends and co-workers of Clements.

“We are grieving with the family and hope that yesterday’s recovery helps provide some closure as they begin their own grieving process,” Cash said.

“I am inspired by, and extremely grateful for, the tireless work of our park staff, as well as the generous assistance provided by dozens of agencies and well-trained search and rescue organizations.”

Clements worked as an accounting technician in the administration department of the City of Cincinnati’s Metropolitan Sewer District. Cleves, the small town Clements hailed from, is about 16 miles northwest of Cincinnati.

Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld said Tuesday words couldn’t do justice to the sadness of the death of Clements, whom he called a “beloved mother, friend and longtime employee of the city of Cincinnati.”

“We will pull together to do everything we can to support her family, friends and co-workers during this time of grieving,” he said. “My colleagues and I, and the whole city workforce, will also ensure we find a meaningful way to remember and honor her.”

A GoFundMe campaign that appears to have been created Tuesday morning by Elizabeth Clements, another of Clements’ daughters, initially sought donations to cover the cost of travel expenses as family members stayed in the area to search for their loved one.

By Wednesday, the campaign had raised more than $7,500, and the description had changed.

“Donations will now help fund her funeral,” Elizabeth Clements wrote. “Thank you so much for your donation and prayers for my family.”

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