The body of 42-year-old Robert Wichser, a former congressional staff member who disappeared Monday night in the flood-swollen Shenandoah River while trying to rescue his flock of sheep, was found yesterday at the base of a tree in a back yard near Strasburg, 18 miles downstream from where he fell into the river.
Shenandoah County Sheriff Marshall Robinson said an inscribed wedding band taken from the body was identified by Wichser's wife, Patricia, who was with her husband when the canoe they were in capsized. She survived by hanging onto tree branches in the river.
Robinson said the body, clothed only in pants and shoes, was discovered around 12:30 p.m. by an 18-year-old woman who had to be taken to a local hospital and treated for shock.
The Wichsers had left their jobs on Capitol Hill this year to raise sheep in the less hectic setting of the Shenandoah Valley near the town of Woodstock.
Monday, as they were finishing work on their new sheep barn, the rapidly rising river threatened several of their sheep. As night fell, the Wichsers resorted to a rescue attempt by canoe, ferrying the sheep one by one to safety with the help of Wichser's father, who guided the operation by flashlight.
As the couple attempted to bring the last sheep into the boat, they were carried downstream and the canoe capsized. The elder Wichser managed to throw his daughter-in-law a rope, but his son disappeared.
Sheriff Robinson said last night that Patricia Wichser, when told of the condition of the woman who found her husband's body, said, "We have to talk to her. Bob wouldn't want her to go on like this."
"The family was such a nice family," Robinson said. "They were the kindest I think I've met in a long time."
Yesterday's discovery ended the four-day search for the missing Wichser, involving boat crews, scuba divers, dog teams and airplanes. "What kept me going was just looking at the wife, the father and the mother -- and you just kept on driving and driving," Robinson said.
He said the Wichsers appeared "relieved" when told the news. "It seemed like it was a relief, knowing that he wasn't lying at the bottom of the river. It was a relief to me."