Willie Jigba

Willie Jigba

After calling off the search for a missing 24-year-old Tempe man in a large swath of Tempe Town Lake on Thursday, Capt. Chuck Hermman of the Tempe Fire Department’s diving team wasn’t satisfied coming up empty handed and decided to return to the murky lake to look again on Friday.

What members of the diving team discovered about 10:30 a.m. was the body of a man floating on the surface they believe is Willie Jigba, who went missing after he was last seen between 3 a.m. to 4 a.m. on Jan. 15 at a party police broke up about a half-mile away.

Jigba’s father, Emmanuel Jigba, told the Tribune on Friday that police officers in California where he lives informed him of the discovery of his son. He said many questions remain.

Emmanuel Jigba had recently returned to Hayward, Calif., where he recently returned after meeting with police in Tempe.

“I’m happy that his body has been found, but there’s a lot of unanswered questions,” Jigba said. “How did he fall in the water? Was there foul play? We don’t know anything, yet.

Members of the dive team and police investigators began to search an area of the lake on Wednesday north of the Scottsdale Road bridge and south of Loop 202, a day after five scent dogs with the volunteer search group Arizona Search Track and Rescue picked up a cadaver scent coming from the water that has depths of 9 to 17 feet, according to police and the search group’s coordinator, Kristi Smith.

Police would not comment on the condition of the man’s body, but said physical characteristics and the description of the clothes matched what Jigba was said to be wearing when he was said to be leaving the party at the Sotelo Apartments in the 600 block of East Weber Drive alone.

The discovery is not being investigated as a homicide, but as a death, according to Sgt. Steve Carbajal, a Tempe police spokesman. Authorities said they expect a positive identification from the Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office to come soon.

Mike Reichling, a spokesman for the Tempe Fire Department, said that Hermman believed if a body was in the lake, it was due to float to the surface soon. The cold 44- to 55-degree temperatures of the water, with zero to 1 foot of visibility in recent weeks, was keeping the body submerged until it began decomposing. Members of the diving team had searched a large area of the lake’s dark waters for two days, close to where the dogs picked up the cadaver scent after the search group’s coordinators brought it to Tempe’s attention. The body was found floating just outside the area that had been searched, Reichling said.

“To know Chuck Hermman is to love him,” said Mike Reichling, a Tempe fire spokesman, minutes after the body was pulled out of the water. “If he’s not satisfied with the outcome of something, he’ll go back and look again. If you can’t see, it’s pretty easy to miss something. He didn’t feel comfortable not finding anything.”

Smith said that a decomposing body submerged in the water releases “rafts” of cells that rise to the surface, and that’s what the dogs picked up.

“After the dogs showed interest in the area of the lake, we felt it bore some extra checking,” Smith said.

CONTACT WRITER: (480) 898-6533 or msakal@evtrib.com

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