Anne Swaney, 39, was executive producer of online operations at abc7chicago.com, according to CNN affiliate WLS. Her body was found Friday morning in a river near the horse farm in western Belize where she staying.
“She was a trailblazer in the digital news space and was one of our first website employees,” said John H. Idler, president and general manager of ABC7. “Anne helped us evolve our business and our newsroom, but most importantly, she was a kind person who was always had a smile and a positive attitude.”
The State Department confirmed her death.
“\We offer our sincerest condolences to her family and loved ones on their loss,” a State Department spokesperson told CNN. “Our consular staff is providing all possible consular assistance.”
Swaney was an avid world traveler who loved her family, horseback riding and adventure, a member of the family told CNN. Her recent trips included Turkey, Greece, Costa Rica, London, and a cattle drive in the western United States; her family has lost count of all the countries she’s visited.
“When she wasn’t working, she was visiting family or traveling the globe.”
Swaney traveled alone to Nabitunich, a farm in the Cayo District of western Belize, the family member said. She had been there before and was friendly with the owner of the farm, which offers tours on horseback.
She planned to participate in a group horseback riding expedition on Thursday, Benque Viejo Police Superintendent Daniel Arzu told WLS. When organizers came up short one horse she volunteered to stay behind and went to do her yoga practice at the Mopan River.
Her family was not surprised that Swaney gave up her tour for someone else.
“Anne would do anything for anyone. She was always the first to volunteer to take on a tough job. She just did the right thing in situations,” the family member told CNN.
When the tour returned they found her personal effects on the deck, Arzu said.
“This looked suspicious, so they went to her cabin and she wasn’t there. They told the owner who called the police. The police came with their canine unit and the scent led them along the river but due to the darkness the search was called off for the night before finding her,” Arzu said.
Friday morning, Police found her body face down in the river with bruises on her neck and lacerations on her head, Arzu said.
The State Department notified Swaney’s family of her death and remains in contact, the family member said. But at this point there are few answers.
“There’s still a whole element of not knowing, and being so far away.”
There is no State Department advisory for travel to Belize but the Central American country “is rated high for crime” on the State Department website. No areas are closed to travel but the State Department urges visitors to exercise caution, particularly in southern Belize City and remote areas along Belize’s borders such as where Swaney was.
Swaney grew up in Platte City, Missouri, a suburb of Kansas City. She graduated from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism in Chicago in 1998 and was an active alum, serving on the class reunion committee in 2013 and the current fundraising campaign.
News of her death shook WLS, where she worked for two decades.
“Anne was our leader, Anne was our conscience. Anne wanted to make sure that every story that we put online was first and foremost right,” said Kevin Carpenter, director of digital operations at ABC7 Chicago. “There’s always going to be a spot there that we will miss.”
She was remembered as a tough copy editor who took pride in every story.
“She was a light, a source of laughter and smiles, and a source of wisdom that’s really one of a kind,” said Rosie Powers, an ABC7 web producer who worked closely with Anne.