Sarah McCarthy had recently helped her friend, Betsy Balchunas, pick out bridesmaids dresses for Balchunas’ upcoming wedding.

The two had been friends since they attended the same day care and learned how to say “I love you,” in sign language.

Sarah McCarthy, 28, of Sebago, was found dead inside her submerged car in Parsonsfield on Sunday. Courtesy of Betsy Balchunas

“There will be such a hole where she should be that day,” Balchunas said Monday.

McCarthy, who went by “Sarie,” was found dead Sunday inside her submerged car in the Ossipee River in Parsonsfield, ending a 24-hour search. She was 28.

The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office is still investigating her death and would not provide any additional details Monday, other than to say an autopsy would be conducted by the state Medical Examiner’s Office.

Balchunas said although she and many others are heartbroken at the news, they are also grateful for the support from the community of Sebago, where McCarthy lived, and beyond.

McCarthy worked at Fairgrounds Pizza & Pub on Route 25 in Cornish. She left work around midnight Friday and was supposed to meet up with friends in Conway, New Hampshire, but never arrived.

McCarthy’s mother, Elizabeth, told NewsCenter Maine that it wasn’t like her daughter to disappear, and she was worried that someone at the restaurant might have drugged her drink.

Police have said McCarthy made calls to family and friends shortly after leaving work that were concerning. Police said they were told that during the calls, McCarthy was disoriented and confused about her location and said she was cold. During one of the calls McCarthy made, police said, she had pulled over and was approached by a woman who knocked on the window and asked if she was OK.

The next morning, police and family began searching for signs of McCarthy or her car, a black Subaru Forester. Neither McCarthy nor her car was found until Sunday, when a passerby at the intersection of Federal Street and Elm Street in Parsonsfield spotted a vehicle submerged in the river – less than 5 miles from her workplace.

The sheriff’s office said evidence at the scene suggested McCarthy was traveling west on Federal Street at a high speed when she missed a curve in the road. Her car then hit a snowbank and plunged into the river.

McCarthy grew up in Sebago with Balchunas and another friend, Stella O’Sullivan. They all stayed friends into adulthood.

“As we grew up, Sarie was always the person I thought gave the best advice,” Balchunas said.

McCarthy moved to South Carolina after college, Balchunas said, “to show us it was OK to try something new.”

“She took us to surfing lessons when we visited her,” Balchunas said.

McCarthy moved back to Maine and returned to school to be a nurse. She was living with her family, who had just bought a new house.

“It was like a family renovation project. Sarie did a ton of work herself and hoped to move in next week,” Balchunas said.

Balchunas said her friend wasn’t the type of person who would let anything stressful weigh her down.

McCarthy’s family did not return a message from the Press Herald on Monday night but Balchunas said McCarthy loved them fiercely.

Fairground Pizza & Pub, where McCarthy worked, closed early Sunday. On the business’s Facebook page was a message and a picture of McCarthy.

“Everyone who knew Sarie was touched by her kind and cheery spirit,” the post read. “She is, and will be, missed by all.”

The post was shared more than 100 times, with more than 250 comments expressing condolences by Monday evening.

The restaurant said it would be closed on Tuesday and Wednesday as well, but planned to host a candle-lighting memorial service for McCarthy at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

“We would like to invite Sarie’s family, close friends, and closest patrons to join us at this ceremony,” the Facebook post read.

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