The Gila County Sheriff’s Office confirmed on Friday night, Dec. 13, a body found earlier in the day was identified as 6-year-old Willa Rawlings, who was swept away in the swollen Tonto Creek two weeks ago, KPHO reported.
Willa had been missing since her family’s military-style truck got caught up in the rushing water of Tonto Creek on Nov. 29. Her parents, Daniel and Lacey Rawlings, and four other children were rescued by helicopter. The body of her 5-year-old brother, Colby, and cousin Austin, also 5, was found the next day, Nov. 30.
The Gila County Sheriff’s Office responded to a call of a vehicle stuck in Tonto Creek at Bar X Crossing in Tonto Basin around 4 p.m. on Black Friday.
Hundreds of searchers and volunteers had spent the last two weeks combing the area by ground and by air for Willa. 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. Friday.
“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.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, barricades were in place at the crossing several hours earlier at the time the family was trying to cross. Willa’s parents, Daniel and Lacey Rawlings, did not want to talk about what happened that day or the reason they took the truck through the flooded road with seven children as according to Daniel “people go around the barricades all the time.”
The Rawlings family is well-known in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints community in Pinetop-Lakeside and Show Low. They are strong in their faith and believe the children are with their Heavenly Father, according to family members.
According to Gila County, the three Rawlings children bring the total number of people who have died crossing Tonto Creek, where there is no bridge, in the past 25 years to eight, Fox News reported. Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona said last week he will consider providing money in next year’s state budget to help build a $20 million bridge over the creek.