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The day before she disappeared Friday under the surface of the Wicomico River, Faith Janee Lee finished classes at her new school in St. Mary’s with awards for excellence and achievement.

The 11-year-old girl’s body was recovered Sunday from the waterway. This week her family’s friends credited her with taking part in the successful rescue of a younger sibling among the children swimming there.

“She is a hero,” Juanita Butler said Monday at the Mill Point Shores home of Terrence and Evett Lee, all members of the Calvert County Baptist Church in Prince Frederick, where Faith Lee had served as a junior usher.

St. Mary’s sheriff’s detectives investigating the girl’s death said this week that the children’s supervisor that day at the river got two of them safely to shore, but when she turned back, Faith Lee was gone. An autopsy this week determined that Faith Lee’s death was an accidental drowning, according to the state medical examiner’s office.

The Lee family moved last fall to the St. Mary’s waterside community near Chaptico, to make year-round use of a summer house owned by Terrence Lee’s father, and their three daughters were enrolled at Dynard Elementary School.

“It was only three-quarters of the school year,” Terrence Lee, 45, said, but long enough in the school’s fifth grade for his oldest daughter to garner the two President’s Awards, including gold for excellence and silver for achievement.

“We didn’t know about these awards she was getting,” Evett Lee, 43, said. “It was a wonderful ceremony. She sang, [with] two other children.”

The couple’s children had gone swimming in the river a couple days earlier last week, they said, and last Friday afternoon, Faith Lee was accompanied by her sisters Joy, 8, and Hope, 7, along with a boy in Faith Lee’s class, another girl and that girl’s mother, serving as a babysitter.

Sheriff’s Capt. Terry Black said Tuesday that the children’s supervisor shoved two of them to shore “to get them out of the current” at the point where Chaptico Bay empties into the river.

“With all the rain we’ve been having, the water’s moving fast,” Black said, and when the children’s supervisor tried to also get Faith Lee to safety, “she had already been pulled under.”

Evett Lee said that she was told that her oldest daughter took part seconds earlier in getting the 8-year-old back to shore.

“It was a valiant act to help her sister. I’m not sure why she turned around [back toward the water], or she just got caught,” Evett Lee said. “She taught herself to swim ... just last summer in a friend’s pool. She wanted [to take] intermediate and advanced lessons.”

Evett Lee said the young boy at the scene ran to get help.

Faith Lee was reported missing at about 2 p.m. on Friday, and an initial search of the waterway that afternoon and evening resumed on Saturday morning. The response included sheriff’s deputies, Maryland Natural Resources Police, Maryland State Police troopers and a helicopter crew, the U.S. Coast Guard and 7th District volunteer firefighters.

The firefighters launched a boat to go to the scene Friday after receiving a water-rescue call that three people were in the river, and two of them were out of the water before the emergency crews arrived and began the search for the 11-year-old, according to an online report by 7th District Fire Chief J.A. Nelson. A thunderstorm briefly interrupted the initial search on Friday, assisted by a Charles County dive team, and it resumed after the storm had passed.

On Sunday afternoon, according to the Charles County sheriff’s office, deputies from the agency and natural resources police were alerted by boaters that a body had been located on the Charles County side of the river, along Rock Point Road near Newburg.

Terrence Lee’s father bought the property at Mill Point Shores about 40 years ago.

“I grew up playing here,” Terrence Lee said, and the community’s shoreline was different then. “The beach wasn’t what it is now. It was rocky.”

The girl’s mother said St. Mary’s public schools’ superintendent, Dynard’s principal and a teacher came by the house earlier Monday to share their grief over the loss of her daughter.

“For the last marking period, she got all As, [except] one B,” Evett Lee said. “She really loved school. She was a remarkable little girl.”

A 10 a.m. visitation and 11 a.m. service for Faith Lee will be held this Saturday, June 21, at her family’s church in Prince Frederick, located at 2190 Solomons Island Road, followed by interment at Chesapeake Highlands Memorial Gardens in Port Republic.

jwharton@somdnews.com