A 71-year-old Harrison Twp. woman with severe dementia may have been the first Montgomery County fatality from the Memorial Day tornadoes.
Catherine “Cathy” Clayburn’s remains were found Tuesday night under stacked trees in a muddy creek near the Stillwater River, 75 to 85 feet below residences.
But Montgomery County Sheriff Rob Streck during a Wednesday press conference that it may never be known exactly how and when Clayburn died.
“The coroner, we’re still waiting to hear what they determine,” Streck said. “We can’t answer whether she fell prior (to the tornado) or if the storms actually caused her to end up at that location.”
Clayburn, who was nonverbal and had no cell phone, was reported missing by family members about five hours before an EF 4 tornado shredded parts of the township May 27.
Clayburn’s body was found at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday a couple blocks from her East Floyd Avenue home and near the area she routinely walked.
“I believe we have found the body of Catherine Clayburn,” a man told a dispatcher in a 911 call obtained by this news organization. “We’re not for sure.”
The caller described the woman’s clothing and the address near where a body was located in debris.
The Montgomery County Coroner’s Office identified Clayburn on Wednesday after an autopsy but did not immediately provide a cause and manner of death.
The sheriff said it was tragic that the search of an area of destruction led by the Ohio chapter of Texas Equusearch and aided by others ended tragically.
“It’s not the outcome we wanted by any means,” Streck said. “We really wanted to be able to tell the family — who was great throughout this, very helpful, cooperative — that we had found the wife, mother, alive and we were bringing her back. Unfortunately, we were not able to.”
Streck said the search for Clayburn faced challenges due to downed power lines, rising waters and difficult terrain that featured spots with 15 feet of trees stacked like Legos.
“She was definitely under large amounts of trees and brush and mud,” the sheriff said. “We do believe that part of the reason we did not find her (when boats searched the area) was that she was under water for a time.”
Sheriff’s office deputies were searching for Clayburn before the storms hit.
“She had been known to walk an area, almost like a circle of the neighborhood,” Streck said. “The family searched those areas first before calling us, because they had looked for her before in the past and found her.”
Neighborhood resident J.E. Cooper said he often saw Clayburn walking. He said he knew her husband was “trying to find his wife and hoping, you know, that she was alive. We all was hoping that. I was hoping it, too,” Cooper said. “It’s a sad situation.”
After the tornado struck, deputies had responsibilities along with looking for Clayburn.
“By this time, they were searching for anyone who may have been injured or worse, killed, during the storm,” Streck said.
Clayburn’s husband told a Cincinnati-area TV station that his wife went for a walk before the storm and called police when she did not return.
“I didn’t notice she was gone, and when I did notice she was gone, I went out looking,” Bob Clayburn told WLWT earlier this week. “This is all before the storm. Rain started about 9, storm really didn’t hit until about 11, and we were out until about 2. … I’m still on survival mode, emotionally.”
The tornado outbreak was responsible for the death of 81-year-old Celina resident Melvin Dale Hannah, who was killed when a parked vehicle was thrown into his house by a tornado while he slept.
Dayton area health care networks’ officials said 420 people were injured either during the tornadoes or from cleanup efforts.
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