Jane Angela Whitney

A family member of one of the two women found dead in a partially ice-covered pond in Bentonville on Tuesday called the loss tragic.

Susan House, who lives in Pennsylvania, spoke of her stepmother Jane Whitney, noting that she was a dedicated and loving woman.

Whitney helped those who were down and out, who had no voice and who many often overlook, House said, adding that her stepmother volunteered at Blue Ridge Hospice and worked at a couple of wineries.

And she loved dogs. House said her stepmother had three dogs, all of which were rescue dogs.

“Her risking her life to save her friend or a dog that was drowning, that was her,” House said.  “It is tragic. It is hard to lose her.”

Just before 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nancy Borders Forest – the  woman who died with Whitney in the pond – was reported missing by her husband.

The last time he saw her was about 2 p.m. Monday when she left home with one of their dogs to pick up another dog from the groomers. She never arrived.

Warren County Sheriff’s Office deputies say they found Forest’s vehicle at Whitney's home. A search of the area ensued, and the bodies of the two women, who were friends, were found along with the body of a dog at about 12:15 a.m. Tuesday in a pond on Whitney's property in Bentonville.  

House said the family was told it appears that the dog, a golden retriever, ran out onto the pond. While details of what happened next are unclear, she said it appears that during an effort to save the dog from drowning, both women ended up on the pond, where they fell through ice and drowned.

Lt. Phillip Henry, of the Sheriff's Office, declined to comment on specifics of the scene, stating that although he was not expecting that any charges to be filed, the investigation remains open.

"At this point, it doesn't appear that anything criminal in nature occurred," Henry said. "But again, it's still being investigated."

Henry said that 11 people with the Sheriff's Office and an unknown number of people with the Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services responded to the incident.

He declined to comment about the apparent cause of death of the women, citing the open investigation. The Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services and the Office of the Medical Examiner have not responded to requests for comment.

House said Whitney was from England and had studied law and obtained a law degree. That was how she met her husband, the late Scott Whitney, who was teaching at the school in England where she was on staff. They married in 1979. Scott Whitney had a law practice and also taught at George Mason University.

“She was very loving, very dedicated to my dad,” House said.

Jane Whitney would keep her husband focused on his kids, making sure they made time to attend events the children were involved in, House said.

“He relied on her,” she added.  

Scott Whitney died of a stroke in 1996.

“She took care of us, but we were so glad she was there for him, especially when he got older. He was the love of her life,” House said.

Jane Whitney loved to travel, going as far away as New Zealand and Patagonia, House said, adding that her stepmother also loved to be home on the family farm in Bentonville.

The Northern Virginia Daily also contacted Forest’s husband, but he declined to comment.

Contact Melissa Topey at mtopey@nvdaily.com