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Woman found dead of apparent suicide at theme park

Southern Wildfires New Normal
Posted at 10:16 AM, Jul 31, 2022

There is an ongoing investigation after a woman was found dead in an apparent suicide at a theme park in the Smoky Mountains, police said.

The woman, Jessica Rhea Ford, 40, was found on Thursday night beneath the Scenic Chondola at Anakeesta, according to a statement from the Gatlinburg police.

The City of Gatlinburg said that they are continuing the investigation as an apparent suicide, in part due to witness statements holding that the victim jumped from the chairlift.

The Gatlinburg Fire & Rescue Department responded to the scene at 7:41 p.m. for an incident on the park’s chairlift. The woman’s body was found shortly thereafter.

Sevier County Medical Examiners’ Office responded to the scene and pronounced the victim dead.

The office told ABC News that the body of the deceased was taken in for an autopsy Thursday night, and is still being examined.

The office said that they cannot offer any further information on the cause of death until the investigation of the incident is complete.

The incident remains under investigation, the city of Gatlinburg said.

The Gatlinburg Police Department has not yet responded to ABC News’ request for further details.

“A tragic incident occurred this evening. 911 was called immediately. Our hearts are with the family of the deceased,” Anakeesta said in a statement.

The area the victim was found was underneath the chairlift that brings guests to and from attractions on the mountain, according to police.

WVLT News spoke to two witnesses on scene.

Jeffrey McConnell told WVLT News he was visiting the Gatlinburg attraction with his fiancée and three children.

According to McConnell, the woman, who he described as being in her late-20′s, fell from the chairlift once it was about three-quarters of the way up the mountain.

McConnell told WVLT News that other visitors tried to alert the woman that her safety railing was up before the fall happened, but she did not respond.

Jay Deuro, another witness who spoke with WVLT News, said the Anakeesta staff kept the rides going despite the fall.

On his way back down, McConnell told WVLT News that staff told visitors to “not look down” as they got onto the chairlift.

A spokesperson from Anakeesta told ABC News that staff only operated the chairlift long enough for riders to exit before shutting it down. The spokesperson added that staff used its transportation fleet to allow the guests to exit the mountain top.

"We mourn this tragic loss of life. Our deepest sympathies are with the family," the spokesperson said.