Authorities believe body in Arizona lake is missing girl

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Published 4:23 pm PST, Friday, December 13, 2019

TONTO BASIN, Ariz. (AP) — Authorities in rural Arizona recovered a body Friday that they believe is a 6-year-old girl swept away two weeks ago when her family tried to cross surging creek waters.

The body was found shortly before 2:30 p.m. in Roosevelt Lake about 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of Tonto Basin, where Willa Rawlings initially went missing, according to a news release from Sheriff J. Adam Shepherd.

The announcement from Gila County sheriff’s officials came on the same day as family members held funeral services for Willa Rawlings and her brother Colby, 5.

The identity of the body has yet to officially be confirmed, but the girl’s family has been notified, authorities said.

The child was one of nine family members in a military-style truck that became stuck Nov. 29 while trying to cross Tonto Creek. The bodies of her brother and cousin Austin, 5, were found the next day. Her parents, Daniel and Lacey Rawlings, and four other children were rescued.

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. But after six days, authorities reclassified their efforts as a recovery mission.

The Rawlings family has not discussed why they tried to cross the creek with their four children and three nieces. Daniel Rawlings previously said people go around barricades to cross the creek all the time.

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.

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.

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.

Ducey 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.