TOWN OF PLEASANT SPRINGS — A sorrowful, grieving, consoling group of friends, classmates and relatives gathered Friday afternoon at La Follette County Park as a rescue became a recovery effort in the search for two teenage girls, missing since entering Lake Kegonsa for a swim on the last day of school.
The bodies of the two girls, missing since Thursday, were found Friday in about the same area off the shore of Lake Kegonsa, a quarter-mile from the park, 15 miles south of Madison, according to the Dane County Sheriff's Office.
The girls were Emma Maurer of Stoughton and Sydnie Kwiatkowski of Footville, both 16 and students at Stoughton High School, the Sheriff's Office said.
The drownings were believed to be accidental and there were no indications of foul play, said Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Elise Schaffer. Autopsies were expected this weekend.
The scene Friday at the tiny county park along Williams Drive was tightly controlled, with authorities allowing only family and friends into the park's shelter area.
When the first body was recovered at about noon, the stunned assembly reacted with wails and sobs. The second body was recovered at about 4:10 p.m.
Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney said the two girls were last seen by friends swimming in the lake at 4 p.m. Thursday, and a fisherman reported seeing the two swimming at about 4:30 p.m.
The girls went with three boys to the park, located along Williams Drive, a couple of miles south of the entrance to Lake Kegonsa State Park, at 2 p.m. Thursday. Stoughton high school students took the last of their final exams Thursday morning.
Mahoney would not say if the gathering included alcohol.
The girls' belongings — including cellphones, shoes and purses — were found along the trail that skirts the lakeshore south of the park. The area where the belongings were found is about a 10-minute walk from the park between railroad tracks and the lake. It was in the lake near this area where both bodies were recovered, Schaffer said.
When the three friends who did not go swimming with the girls found their belongings but could not find the girls, they alerted family members. The Sheriff's Office was notified just before 8 p.m. Thursday, Mahoney said.
Maurer was on the Stoughton High School swim team.
"Both girls were well-liked and had just finished their sophomore year," said Tim Onsager, superintendent of the Stoughton School District.
"Both had a large group of friends, good friends," he said, adding, "This is a tragedy for the school community and the community at large."
He said school counselors will be available all next week.
Mahoney said county personnel searched the lake and area until 4 a.m. before resuming later Friday morning, joined by county parks employees. The large, shallow lake, which borders partly along Highway 51, and the many trails and wooded areas around the 340-acre state park were searched, he said.
The park is separated from the lake by railroad tracks that run close by the shoreline. A narrow footpath follows the lake shore between the tracks and the lake. Neither the state nor the county park has lifeguard service.
At a press conference Friday morning at the park, Mahoney tried to sound optimistic, saying, "We plan for the worst and hope for the best."
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.