Woman found dead of apparent suicide at theme park


An investigation is underway 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 Thursday night under the Scenic Chondola in Anakeesta, according to a statement from Gatlinburg police.

The city of Gatlinburg said it was continuing the investigation as an apparent suicide, in part due to witness statements claiming the victim jumped off 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.

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

The office told ABC News that the deceased’s body was taken in for an autopsy Thursday evening and is still being examined.

The office said it could not provide any further information on the cause of death until an investigation into the incident was complete.

The incident is still under investigation, the city of Gatlinburg said.

The Gatlinburg Police Department has yet to respond to ABC News’ request for further details.

“A tragic incident occurred tonight. 911 was called immediately. Our hearts go out to the family of the deceased,” Anakeesta said in a statement.

The area where the victim was found was under the chairlift that takes visitors to and from the mountain’s attractions, police said.

The entrance to the Memorial Forest Walk at Anakeesta Adventure Park in Gatlinburg, Tennessee is pictured November 21, 2017.

Jonathan Mattise/AP, FILE

WVLT News spoke to two witnesses at the 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 twenties, fell off the chairlift once he was about three-quarters up the mountain.

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

Jay Deuro, another witness who spoke to WVLT News, said Anakeesta staff maintained the rides despite the fall.

On the way back down, McConnell told WVLT News that staff told visitors to “don’t look down” when getting on the chairlift.

A spokesperson for Anakeesta told ABC News that staff only ran the chairlift long enough for passengers to exit before stopping it. The spokesperson added that staff were using their transport fleet to get guests off the mountaintop.

“We mourn this tragic loss of life. Our deepest condolences go out to the family,” the spokesperson said.

ABC News

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