CLEVELAND COUNTY, N.C. — Authorities in Boiling Springs have confirmed they have found the body of a local football standout they believe was swept away in the Broad River earlier this month.
Officials said 34-year-old Keenan Little's body was found in the river by Boiling Springs Rescue Saturday morning. Authorities said Little's body was located approximately 2.5 miles from where he was last seen on March 16th.
Boiling Springs Police Chief Nathan Phillips told Channel 9 as the search continued, they were considering the search a recovery effort, meaning they did not expect to find Little alive.
Cleveland County Emergency Management said sometime around 1:15 p.m. on March 16th, people saw the 34-year-old go under water at the Broad River Greenway.
Officials said witnesses attempted to go into the river to help but were unable to reach him.
Authorities said they found one article of clothing along the banks of the river. The water is very cold this time of year and rescue crews said they aren't sure why he waded into the river.
The Highway Patrol was searching for Little by helicopter and dive teams were in the water using sonar equipment to search the river bottom.
Rescue teams from Shelby, Anderson County and several fire departments-- including an underwater rescue team-- searched for several hours before suspending the search once it got dark.
Despite officials calling this a recovery mission, Barbara Little believed her son somehow got out.
“I’m not giving up hope,” she said.
She said her son is a fighter. Back in 2002, that spirit made him part of the WSOC Sports Gridiron Greats as a standout football player at Crest High School.
He went on to play at the U.S. Naval Academy. A traumatic brain injury from playing football there led to an honorable discharge.
"He received multiple concussions, and he was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury," Barbara Little said.
Keenan Little returned home, working several jobs but struggling with the symptoms.
"He didn't want to give up,” Barbara Little said.
She said Keenan didn't sleep much the two days before he was last seen, but he is not the kind of man who would just drown.
"They are not going to find a body in the water. I believe they are going to find Keenan breathing,” she said.
Little's family gathered for prayer at the fire station in Boiling Springs. They said they are hoping for the best, but are prepared for the worst.
Family members said he liked to come to the riverfront for peace and quiet, as a place where he could rest his mind.
Little's cousin Jason Wilson said Little was like a brother to him.
"From a baby on up, I watched all his games, high school. Just for them to tell me that, honestly, I want to have hope," Wilson said.
Phillips was among those who remembered, "Seeing that young man grow up over the years playing football at Crest High School and interacting with him as he was growing up.”
Authorities said the greenway remains shut down while crews investigate the area.
This is an ongoing investigation. Check back with wsoctv.com for more information.
Cox Media Group