WSFA 12 News
On Saturday afternoon, a multi-vehicle collision occurred on Interstate 65 in Butler County before 2:30 p.m. local time. A bus carrying foster home children from the Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch in Camp Hill and a small SUV were involved, according to AL.com.
Michael Smith, CEO of the Alabama Sheriff's Youth Ranches, told the outlet that the young girls from the ranch were traveling in two vehicles on the way back from a trip to the city of Gulf Shores. The first vehicle was involved in the deadly crash and the girls in the second vehicle did not see the wreck, he confirmed.
Butler County Sheriff Danny Bond also told AL.com that the incident involved a total of 18 vehicles and a few others obtained nonfatal injuries. "This was probably the most horrific accident in Butler County history," Bond said.
The crash closed the northbound and southbound lanes of the interstate before they were later reopened around 2 a.m. on Sunday, AL.com reported.
WSFA 12 News
Butler County Coroner Wayne Garlock told the outlet that young individuals killed from the Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch ranged in age from 4 to 17. Their identities have not been released "because many were in the care of the state," per AL.com.
The driver of the bus was pulled from the vehicle by a bystander, but when they attempted to go back to retrieve the children, Garlock said they were unable to do so. "It was too late to get back to them because the bus was engulfed in fire," he said.
The driver of the vehicle involved in the crash was later identified as Candice Gulley, director of the Tallapoosa County facility, Smith detailed. Gulley is now recovering at a hospital.
In the other vehicle, a father and a 9-month-old girl - who were later identified as Cody and Ariana Fox - were killed as well. Cody was pronounced dead at the scene while Ariana later died at the Regional Medical Center in Greenville, according to AL.com.
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In a Facebook post, the ranch confirmed one of its vehicles was involved in the deadly crash, writing that their facility "suffered great loss."
"Please send prayers our way as we navigate this difficult time," the organization stated.
Smith now says that he, like many others, is trying to process the horrific incident. "I've never seen a tragedy or heard of a tragedy like this in my entire life," he said, per AL.com. "I'm still certainly trying to process what's going on here, I just know that God is leading me in the direction to continue to try to help the girls who survived and be here with them."
"All of the children that are deceased that were on that van loved God and they are in a better place. Our Christian values will get us through this situation," Smith continued. "All that we ask your readers do is please keep us in their prayers and pray for our extended family, our ranch family. We need prayer."
Smith also noted that the facility has "grief counseling" available, as well as "pastors meeting with all of our ranches."