Frigid Waters: A Fleeting Balm for a Mother’s Unspeakable Grief

Ms. Reece is a former professional tennis player who has competed at the Australian Open, the French Open, the U.S. Open and Wimbledon. At the peak of her career, she ranked 79th in the world in doubles tennis. At Indiana University, her alma mater, she is one of four female tennis players inducted into its Athletics Hall of Fame.

Growing up on the North Side of Indianapolis, Ms. Reece met her future husband, Michael Hunn, during high school. Though they briefly dated as teenagers and their sisters were close friends, it wasn’t until their late 20s that a full-fledged relationship began. Friends were pairing off and starting to have children, and after dating for five months, the two became engaged. The couple exchanged vows in 2000 and next relocated to Manhattan, where Mr. Hunn worked in sales for American Express. After living for a time in Westchester County, they eventually put down roots in East Hampton, where Ms. Reece had not only family nearby but also a job that she loved, working as a pro at a local tennis center.

From 2003 to 2009, they called the East Hampton area home. They had two blonde, blue-eyed children — Harrison and Shelby, born two years apart. But following a series of failed entrepreneurial ventures, the couple declared bankruptcy in the aftermath of the 2008 financial collapse and returned to a town in Indiana, Zionsville.

The marriage didn’t last. In 2017, the couple divorced, largely because of Mr. Hunn’s increasing alcoholism and financial instability, Ms. Reece said. While they parted on amicable terms, sharing custody of the children, Ms. Reece took Mr. Hunn to court after he fell behind on child support, and his drinking remained a constant source of worry. A court document from December 2017, a month after their divorce became final, showed that Mr. Hunn had already violated the agreement that he wouldn’t drink when he had the children. By April 2018, Ms. Reece had requested that on the days when he had primary custody, a device regularly measure his blood-alcohol levels.

On Friday morning, Sept. 21, 2018, Ms. Reece was driving when she received a call from an administrator at Zionsville Middle School. Her daughter, Shelby, hadn’t shown up for classes that morning, and neither parent had called in her absence. A quick call to the high school revealed that her son, Harrison, hadn’t shown up either.

Ms. Reece immediately texted her children. When they didn’t respond, she drove over to their father’s house. Strangely, the shades to their bedrooms were still drawn. The “Find My iPhone” tracking feature showed that both phones were right there, inside the home.

Although Ms. Reece knew where an extra key was, she instinctively knew better than to go in, so she called 911 and, a bit later, her brother, to wait with her on a patch of grass across from the house. “As a mother, my brain was protecting me,” she said.