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Body found in search for 6-year-old boy whose mother drowned trying to rescue him from Massachusetts river

Courtesy Massachusetts State Police/Twitter

(AMESBURY, Mass.) -- A kayaker likely found the body of a 6-year-old boy who went missing after his mother drowned while trying to rescue him and his sister from a Massachusetts river, authorities said.

The child disappeared into the Merrimack River Thursday evening while fishing and swimming with his family on Deer Island, a recreational area near the Amesbury and Newburyport border, police said.

The body was found Sunday morning in the Pipers Quarry area of the river, about a half-mile from where he went missing, and was turned over to the office of the state's chief medical examiner for identification, authorities said.

The Amesbury Police Department said the boy's family had been notified.

The search for the boy -- identified by Massachusetts State Police as Mas DeChhat of Lowell -- had continued over the weekend, with divers and boat operators with the state police along with divers from the Boston Fire Department using sonar devices and tow bars.

Local authorities also involved in the search said Friday that first responders had shifted into a recovery effort.

"We've seen several tragedies on the river, but not usually where a whole family is affected," Newburyport Fire Chief Christopher LeClaire told reporters Friday.

Mas was supposedly reaching for a stick when he fell into the water around 7 p.m. Thursday, state police said. His 7-year-old sister tried to grab him and also fell into the water.

As both were pulled along by the swift current, their mother "entered the water to save her children," Massachusetts State Police spokesperson Dave Procopio said in a statement Saturday. Their mother, identified as 29-year-old Boua DeChhat, "was not known to swim," Procopio said.

While the three were swept away by the current, the children's father also went into the water to try and save them.

"The father also was not a swimmer, could not reach his loved ones, and began to struggle himself," Procopio said.

The father managed to make it back to shore and was later hospitalized for exposure to the cold waters, police said.

Boua DeChhat and her daughter were eventually pulled from the water by a fishing boat operator. The mother was unresponsive, while her daughter was alert, authorities said. The two were transported to a nearby hospital, where the mother was pronounced dead. The daughter has since been treated and released.

Local resident Mark Bajko told Boston ABC affiliate WCVB he and a police officer administered CPR to the mother after she was pulled ashore.

"The little girl stopped crying and yells, 'My brother's still in the water,'" Bajko told the station.

Mas was not seen in the water when his mother and sister were pulled out, police said.

LeClaire said the strong current in the river has challenged search efforts.

The U.S. Coast Guard has also been involved in the search since the boy went into the water. Coast Guard Sector Boston said Friday evening that it had suspended its search "pending new information."

"It is always a difficult decision to suspend a search and rescue case, and even more painful when children are involved," Capt. Kailie Benson, Coast Guard Sector Boston commander, said in a statement. "Considering the extensive search efforts by the Coast Guard and the numerous state and local agencies, along with on-scene conditions, I have made the decision to suspend the search for the missing 6-year-old boy."

She added, "Our prayers are with the boy and mother's family and friends during this time."

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