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Pa. Woman Whose Body Was Found in Creek Remembered as 'Amazing Person' with the 'Biggest Heart'

·4-min read
Cassandra Johnston
Cassandra Johnston

Facebook Cassandra Johnston

Loved ones are paying tribute to Cassandra "Casey" Johnston days after her body was found in a Philadelphia creek.

Investigators discovered Johnston's body on Sunday, a little over three weeks after her family reported her missing on July 10, according to ABC affiliate WPVI and NBC affiliate WCAU.

The 26-year-old from Southampton, Pennsylvania, had been visiting a friend in Philadelphia when her family said she failed to return home, WPVI reported.

It wasn't until Johnston's family hired a private investigator, Kevin Ryan, that her car was spotted in a wooded area in Northeast Philadelphia on Saturday, according to WPVI. Her body was located one day later, just a half a mile away, in the Byberry Creek, per WCAU.

"It's been horrible, waiting and looking and looking and looking and looking," her mom, Carolann Johnston, told CBS affiliate KYW-TV, adding that they've found comfort in knowing "that she was at peace now."

Adder her father, Joe Johnston, to the outlet: "I feel so blessed that everyone came out to help for my daughter, to find my daughter. Thank[s] everybody, thank you."

Cassandra "Casey" Johnston
Cassandra "Casey" Johnston

Lower Southampton Police Department Cassandra "Casey" Johnston

RELATED: Body of Missing Pa. Woman Found in Creek a Mile Away from Where Her Car Crashed Into Tree

Following the tragic news, many of Johnston's loved ones remembered the young woman on social media.

Neshaminy Kids Club — where Johnston worked as a lifeguard, per her obituary — said she had been a member of their family for many years and called her "a beautiful person, whose presence brightened up the room."

"Her kindness and spirit was infectious," their Facebook post reads. "It has been our pleasure to watch her grow into the compassionate and remarkable educator she was becoming. She loved to spend most of her time teaching kids various types of physical education games. Miss Casey truly loved her job, and she was always looking for new ways to improve our program."

"She has made a lasting impression on the Neshaminy Kids Club families that will never be forgotten. The program will not be the same without her," the club added.

Johnston's friend and former co-worker, Gia Ferrandino, said she was "at a loss for words" after hearing the news.

"You being there for me when I needed you. And I would do the same for you," she wrote. "You are such an amazing person, always full of life, the life of the party. Countless memories I will cherish forever."

Kristin White, who was Johnston's birth mother, according to her obituary, added in a Facebook post: "To have to put something like this up for my beautiful child kills me. I know everyone loved Casey and you couldn't help but not to. She always had the biggest heart and I knew she was on to bigger things. But I guess God had a different idea for her... I love you my Casey and I always will."

RELATED VIDEO: Body Found in Pond Is Believed to Be Missing 4-Year-Old Boy

At this time, it remains unclear how Johnston's vehicle ended up in the woods.

Lower Southampton Township Police Chief Ted Krimmel said during a news conference on Sunday that investigators believe Johnston had trouble maneuvering a curve and went airborne over a guardrail, crashing her car into a tree about 49 yards from the road, per WPVI.

Krimmel said that Johnston was likely ejected from the sunroof of her car and landed in a culvert, which then carried her body downstream after recent flooding in the area.

A tornado that ripped through the woods on Thursday also likely clear some tall trees that had previously made it impossible for investigators to see Johnston's car during previous aerial searches of the area, Krimmel noted.

RELATED: Body of Woman, 52, Who Disappeared While Swimming with Grandson Found in Wash. Lake

On Monday, the Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office confirmed to WPVI and WCAU that Johnston died from blunt impact trauma, with her manner of death being ruled as accidental.

A spokesperson for the Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office did not respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

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