Foster mother recalls troubled life of teen found drowned in Fort Worth river

Posted Thursday, Aug. 01, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Sarah McKinney called her foster mother Sunday night in good spirits.

The 18-year-old said she was working on visiting her 2-year-old daughter in Waco and getting an education at the University of Texas at Arlington.

But on Tuesday, Fort Worth firefighters pulled McKinney’s body out of the Trinity River near Panther Island Pavilion north of downtown. The Tarrant County medical examiner’s office ruled her death an accident.

“They’re saying she just fell in?” the foster mother, Bessie Rodgers, said Thursday. “I think there are still a lot of questions about what happened.”

Fort Worth police have not closed the investigation into her death but released no information on Thursday.

“She was afraid of the water,” said Matthew Taylor of Fort Worth, the father of McKinney’s child. “She hated the water, she couldn’t swim.”

Rodgers said she was told that McKinney did not have alcohol or drugs in her system and there were no marks of a struggle.

McKinney was born in Albuquerque, N.M. Her parents died when she was young, and she lived most of her life in foster homes. Her older brother was placed in a foster home in Lubbock, Rodgers said.

McKinney was placed with Rodgers when she was 11 or 12. “She was shy and very quiet when she first came to stay with me,” Rodgers said. “Other girls get here, and they’re cussing and pulling knives on me. She didn’t.”

McKinney did well in school and got along with the other girls in Rodgers’ care.

Former North Crowley classmate Shaolin Taylor said she met McKinney through Matthew Taylor, her brother.

“We were like twin sisters,” Shaolin Taylor said Thursday. “She loved tattoos and music.”

She graduated from North Crowley High School in 2012. But she began running away more often and became pregnant, Rodgers said.

Child Protective Services “put her in a group home in San Antonio and put her baby in foster care,” Rodgers said. “It just went downhill from there. She started drinking more and more.”

McKinney was arrested at a San Antonio Walmart in October, but was allowed to return to Fort Worth in November, where she moved back in with Rodgers. Information on the disposition of theft case was not available Thursday.

“She could have still been in foster care, but she didn’t want to be under any rules,” Rodgers said. “She came by the house to eat, take a bath and sleep for a while, and then she would leave.”

McKinney was arrested again in May on a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, but a Tarrant County grand jury declined to indict her in June. In an affidavit of indigency, McKinney listed a friend’s home as her residence and said she made $15,079.99 annually working at McDonald’s. For expenses each month, she listed $50 on bus fare, $60 on electricity, about $100 on clothes and $100 on her cell phone.

“When she called Sunday, she was happy. She said she had gotten married and I even talked to her husband,” Rodgers said. “But I had my doubts about all that.”

McKinney’s body was spotted about 1 p.m. Tuesday by an employee of the Tarrant Regional Water District who was cleaning up at Panther Island Pavilion, according to a police report. A MedStar spokesman said the body was visible and was retrieved in four minutes.

Star-Telegram researcher Cathy Belcher contributed to this report.

Domingo Ramirez Jr., 817-390-7763 Twitter: @mingoramirezjr

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