The body of 6-year-old Willa Rawlings – who, along with two other children, was swept away two weeks ago when her family allegedly drove around a barricade to cross surging creek waters -- was discovered Friday in a large lake reservoir in rural Arizona.
Her body was found in the area of Indian Point on the north side of Roosevelt Lake on the Tonto Creek Arm just before 2:30 p.m., the Gila County Sheriff's Office said. Officials confirmed Friday night the child’s body had been identified as that of Willa Rawlings and her family had been notified, FOX 10 Phoenix reported.
“My condolences and prayers go to the Rawlings Family, who have lost three young children and I am grateful we were able to find Willa today. As this concludes this operation this event will have a lasting effect on all of us,” Sheriff of Gila County J. Adam Shepherd said in a statement.
The girl was one of nine family members, together for the Thanksgiving holiday, in a military-style truck that became stuck Nov. 29 while trying to cross Tonto Creek, about 20 miles north from where her body was found. Her parents, Daniel and Lacey Rawlings, and four other children were rescued by helicopter from a small island in the middle of the creek after getting caught up in a cascade of water caused by an intense runoff from a powerful storm, according to FOX 10.
Three children stayed in the truck, which was later swept away. The bodies of her brother Colby Rawlings and cousin Austin Rawlings, both 5, were found the next day.
Searchers and volunteers had spent the last two weeks combing the area by ground and by air for any sign of the girl. Crews used drones, boats and sonar equipment in their search. Rescuers initially recovered a shoe and a pair of pants belonging to her. After six days, authorities reclassified their efforts as a recovery mission.
The creek crossing was marked as closed with barricades and signs when the family tried to cross, authorities said.
Gila County has applied repeatedly for federal funds to pay for a bridge where the family truck was swept away, but it hasn’t won a grant for the project, county spokeswoman Jacque Sanders said. About 1,000 people are cut off when the creek floods during heavy rains.
Gov. Doug Ducey said last week he will consider providing money in next year’s state budget to help build a bridge over the creek. He told reporters that with the state in a good financial position, looking at ways to fund a $20 million bridge to serve the small community is in the mix. The county has sought $17 million in federal funds and would pay for the remainder.
The three children bring the total number of people who have died crossing Tonto Creek in the past 25 years to eight, according to Gila County.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.