Texas police confirmed Wednesday that they have found the bodies of six family members who drowned after a van they were travelling in plunged into a bayou as they desperately tried to escape flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston Sunday.
"Now that the waters have receded some, family members came back into the area, spotted the van partially embanked between the waterway and immediately notified authorities," Sheriff Ed Gonzalez of the Harris County Sheriff's Office said during a news conference at the tragic scene.
Police explained earlier that Samuel "Sammy" Saldivar told them he was driving eastbound on Green River Road near John Ralston Road Sunday when rising water in Greens Bayou overcame the van. He was travelling with his elderly parents, Manuel Saldivar, 84, and Belia, 81. Also in the van were the great-grandchildren of his parents: Daisy Saldivar, 6, Xavier Saldivar, 8, Dominic Saldivar, 14, and Devy Saldivar, 16.
Sammy Saldivar told police and family members that he escaped from the van by crawling through the driver's side window and grabbing onto a branch as he watched helplessly as the van sank in the bayou with his family.
"He was yelling at the kids to climb out of the back of the van. I'm sure they couldn't reach it," Ric Saldivar said, recalling what Samuel told him. "He could hear the kids screaming, but couldn't push the doors open. That's what he keeps hearing in his head. And the van just went underwater and was gone."
Gonzalez said the two older adults were found in the front seat of the van and when they fished the vehicle from the water they discovered the children inside the back of the van. He described the van as a work van and noted that the back of the vehicle was separate from the front by mesh.
"Family, I just notified them. Obviously they are devastated as we all are as well. Our worst fears have been realized. We have tried to offer comfort. Our Harris County Sherriff's chaplains are also here to comfort the family. The family has asked for just some courtesy as they grieve through this process. They are asking for privacy," he said.
Prior to the gruesome find Wednesday, family members said the mother of the children went back to the scene of the tragedy in a boat in a desperate attempt to find them.
"She's a mom — she just wants to find her kids," Esmeralda Saldivar, the children's aunt through marriage, told NBC News.
"It's so unfair," she added, crying. "They were good kids. They didn't deserve to die this way."
She said the family is very close and relatives live within a few blocks of each other.
"We can't imagine the kids not being there," she said. "I haven't slept. I'm scared to go to sleep because I see them."
Just hours before she died trying to escape the storm with her family Sunday, 16-year-old Devy Saldivar wrote on Facebook: "No sleep & anxiety, please let this pass sooner."