With Harvey’s floodwaters rapidly flowing into the Houston hotel where she worked, Jill Renick reportedly made a frantic cellphone call to a fellow employee: “I’m in an elevator. The water is rushing in. Please help me!”
Those words were among the few clues Renick’s family and friends had to go on for a week and a half, when repeated searches of the Omni Houston Hotel failed to turn up any sign of her and desperate calls to shelters and hospitals were similarly fruitless.
Worst fears were confirmed with the discovery of a body in the ceiling of the hotel basement near elevators Thursday, and police say they believe it to be that of the 48-year-old Renick.
“We are heartbroken. To know Jill is to have loved her,” her sister, Pam Eslinger, said in a statement issued on behalf of the family. “She could light up a room just by walking in and adored life.”
Renick’s disappearance had been among the most baffling mysteries in the wake of Harvey, which has killed at least 74 people after hitting the Texas coast Aug. 25 and dropping more than 51 inches (129 centimeters) of rain. At least 22 people in Houston remain missing.
Renick, who was director of spa services at the four-star hotel, was last heard from Aug. 27, police said, when she made the call to a co-worker saying she was stuck in a service elevator that was rapidly filling with water. Eslinger, who has said she spoke with employees, detailed the call to Dallas television station KTVT.
Renick had stayed the night with her dog in a fourth-floor room at the hotel but left to help guests evacuate as water poured into the lobby and basement. After her cellphone call, there was no sign of Renick. Her dog was found in the hotel room and her car in the parking lot.
Attempts by the police dive team and the Houston Fire Department to locate Renick were unsuccessful because of the severe flooding. A hotel employee finally spotted the body early Thursday.
“She was loved by so many people,” said the family statement, “and we will feel the impact of her absence in our hearts forever.”