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Behind the Scenes of Rescue Gone Wrong

After covering a few UNSOLVED stories with Kentucky State Police, officers asked us to cover a story about one of their own.

FRANKFORT, Ky. — When we call they always answer — without hesitation and without question. 

First-responders put themselves second to save the lives of total strangers, and one Kentucky State Police trooper made the ultimate sacrifice. 

When two children missing in high waters, Trooper James McNeely reported for the rescue mission. McNeely is still missing and after the rescue gone wrong his remains were never recovered.

Chapter One | A Call for Help 

After our interview with KSP on a separate case, they told us the story of an unsolved case close to home.

Officers told us how much it would mean if we featured an unsolved case involving one of their own: Trooper James McNeely.

In role reversal, the UNSOLVED team answered their call for help. 

Police connected us with McNeely's only surviving direct descendant.  

Chapter Two | Without a Father 

Katrina McNeely was only a child when her dad went missing. We spent a few hours talking with her in a restaurant overlooking the dam where the boat crashed. 

A 16-year veteran with KSP, McNeely had recently been transferred to the Frankfort to lead the boating division.

A young girl the night her father disappeared, McNeely said she barely remembers her father leaving for the mission. What she does remember, though, is how devastated her mother was by the news that he may never return home.

As an adult, McNeely continued to reconnect with her fallen father. She pointed to inconsistencies in the stories she was told.

Open investigations are not public record, and as the media we are used to getting limited information. McNeely said she saw similar issues.

"Every time I find something and have it addressed it always gets shut down," McNeely said.

McNeely shared some of her theories with us — why did the police only search for a few hours? What was the timeline of the disappearance?

Chapter Three | Record of the Rescue 

For more information we turned to the newspaper, the Frankfort State-Journal. 

Due to the age of the story The Journal referred us to the Department of Libraries and Archives. We drove over and requested to view the microfilm. 

Scanning through pages of the old papers we found just a few brief mentions confirming small details but leaving many questions unanswered.

McNeely's story had a beginning, but very little middle and end. Newspapers stopped covering most of his disappearance when they found the body of the officer he traveled with over 100 miles away — but was McNeely's fate the same as the other officer? His daughter said she isn't sure.

Chapter Four | Help Solve My Case 

"It's difficult because I am one of the last family members. I am the only child left," McNeely said of her search for truth. "His parents are gone, his brother is gone." 

Refusing to stop looking, McNeely said she believes someone knows something they have not told police.

"I've been going through this my whole life. I need answers," McNeely said. "Wouldn't you want answers?" 

If you have any information that could bring closure to this family, please Kentucky State Police Post 12 call (502) 227-2221. 

Read McNeely's full story here.

The UNSOLVED team's story on the disappearance of Trooper James McNeely airs Friday, May 16 at 11 p.m.

►Make it easy to keep up-to-date with more stories like this. Download the WHAS11 News app now. For Apple or Android users. 

Want an inside look at what the UNSOVLED team is investigating next? Join our Insiders group on Facebook.

We're looking into some of Kentucky and Indiana's biggest unsolved cases, and hoping you can help detectives find answers. Visit WHAS11's UNSOLVED series at https://www.whas11.com/unsolved.


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