After nearly two weeks of growing fears about the demise of Jill Renick, the Omni Hotel’s spa manager who disappeared as Harvey-induced floodwaters ravaged Houston, relatives reported Thursday that her body had been found.
The 48-year-old was last heard from just before 6 a.m. on Aug. 27. She called the front desk for help while, her family believes, she was trapped in one of the hotel’s elevators.
Her remains were found inside the Omni building off South Post Oak, according to a statement from her family.
“We are heartbroken,” Renick’s sister, Pam Eslinger, 62, in the statement. “To know Jill is to have loved her. She could light up a room just by walking in and adored life. She was loved by so many people, and we will feel the impact of her absence in our hearts forever.”
Renick stayed the night of Aug. 26 to help guests through the expected weather, Eslinger said.
Neither the Houston Police Department nor the Omni confirmed Renick’s identity, though HPD spokeswoman Jodi Silva said a body was found at the hotel Thursday morning.
Kristen Cadenhead, a spokeswoman at the Omni Hotels corporate headquarters in Dallas, confirmed a body was found in a ceiling above the lower level of the Houston hotel.
She said staff searched every area of the hotel they could access. She noted that HPD previously concluded that Renick was not in the hotel or parking garage after “thoroughly searching” the building.
HPD officials confirmed searching at least one hotel elevator without finding Renick but have declined to say whether police searched other parts of the property.
Name not yet on list
On Thursday night, Harris County’s official death toll from the storm remained at 30 and officials have not added Renick to the list. At least 70 people have died or are feared dead from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston region and beyond.
The storm’s flooding claimed the life of a Houston man who spent 20 years in and out of prison and was facing a life sentence last year for drug possession. Grace by a judge granted him five years of probation and he began his life anew through a re-entry program.
Joseph Dowell headed to work in a downpour on Aug. 27. The 48-year-old did not want to disappoint the people who helped him land a job in the city’s Public Works Department. On the way, he hit high water on Wayside Drive and called his supervisor.
“Man, OK, be careful,” Jesse Eleby said he advised.
The Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences confirmed Thursday that his body was found in a wooded area in the 3500 block of North Wayside Drive. His name had not been added, however, to the official count of storm-related fatalities.
Nurse caught in current
Loved ones of Keisha Williams are mourning the Houston nurse who planned to ride out the storm by taking care of her beloved nursing home patients while clocking hours to provide for her two daughters.
The night of Aug. 26, the 32-year-old took her girls to a relative’s home, then headed to work. When flooded roads blocked her way to the Jacinto City Healthcare Center, she ended up at a friend’s house. By Aug. 28, Greens Bayou near her home had receded and the path to the Woodforest Chase complex was puddle-ridden but passable.
“She went back to her apartment to get the school clothes she’d just bought the girls and to get their dogs,” said Jolié Tillman, the paternal aunt of Williams’ daughters.
The nurse lost her life when floodwaters rose quickly and she got caught in a strong current in the parking lot. The Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences recovered her body, which was flung across a fence, on Aug. 30 in the 12400 block of Woodforest Blvd.
“It’s really hit me pretty hard,” said her grandmother, Marie Williams. She lost Keisha’s mother to illness in 2012 and enjoyed spending time with her granddaughter.
“She’d come and visit all the time,” the 74-year-old said. “We’d go to dinner after church. I’m going to miss her.”
The Furr High School graduate first became a certified nursing assistant, then a licensed vocational nurse and team leader at work. Her next goal was to become a registered nurse.
“She just worked so hard,” Tillman said. “It was important for her to do that to show her girls how important it is to work and have a strong work ethic.”
Her daughters – Kiaja Elkins, 13, and 10-year-old Kinaya Elkins – learned that their dogs, Tiger and Doughboy, survived the storm.
A funeral for Williams, who would have turned 33 on Sept. 2, is planned for 11 a.m. Saturday at Pleasant Green Missionary Baptist Church, 10912 Wallisville Road.
Found in Ship Channel
The Harris County morgue on Thursday asked for the public’s help in locating relatives of a man discovered Aug. 31 in the Houston Ship Channel.
Gary Wayne Sanchez, 58, is about six feet, one inch tall. He has dark salt-and-pepper hair with a beard of dark hair with gray flecks. He is not among the institute’s confirmed storm-related fatalities because his cause and manner of death are pending, agency spokeswoman Tricia Bentley said.
Anyone related to Sanchez or with information about his family is asked to called the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences at 832-927-5001.