Search continues for missing 6-year-old girl after vehicle swept away in creek

Adriana Navarro

The search continues for Willa Rawlings, a six-year old girl who remains missing after a vehicle had been swept away while attempting to cross the swollen Tonto Creek on Friday.

Nine members of an Arizona family had come together for a Thanksgiving celebration, The Associated Press reported. The holiday ended in tragedy when they had attempted to cross Tonto Creek, which had been swollen by runoff from the storm that hit the area on Thanksgiving. Their military-style truck- occupied by two adults and seven children- was swept up by the torrent on Friday afternoon, according to the Gila County Sheriff's Office.

Daniel Rawlings and four children had escaped the car to an island, where they were rescued by Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and Arizona Department of Public Safety helicopters. Lacey Rawlings had also escaped the car and was rescued from the shore.

Three children had stayed in the car, according to the AP. When authorities discovered the truck, however, it was empty. Two of the Rawlings' four children were among the missing.

Colby Rawlings, their 5-year-old son, and Austin Rawlings, their 5-year-old niece, were found dead on Saturday about 600 to 1,000 yards from the site of the attempted crossing.

More than 100 volunteers flocked to the Tonto Basin early Sunday to help search for the Rawlings' daughter, according to the Arizona Republic.

"We want to bring her home safely to her family," Lt. Virgil Dodd of the Gila County Sheriff's Office told "She needs to come home today, and we're going to do that today."

Earlier that morning, the Sheriff's Office had posted on Facebook that the Bar X Crossing across Tonto Creek had been closed along with a few other routes.

"It had been showery in the region most of the day Thursday, with some heavier downpours in times in spots," AccuWeather Meteorologist Jake Sojda said. "In arid mountainous regions like what is found in the Tonto Basin it doesn't take much for small streams and dry creek beds to become raging torrents as any rain quickly runs into these waterways rather than soaking into the ground. Even downpours well away from the creek could have caused a flash flood to surge down the creek."

The water level of Tonto Creek near Roosevelt, Arizona, had risen to about 6 ft. by 4 p.m. PST on Nov. 29, 2019. (Image/NWS)

"Thursday night a steady and at times very heavy rain moved into the region. It looks like the heaviest rain moved into the region between around 4 a.m. and 8 a.m. PST Friday morning," Sojda said. "The Phoenix metro area generally recorded about an inch of rainfall, but in the mountainous areas to the east, rainfall amounts more on the order of 3-4 inches likely fell, leading to these mountain creeks and streams to turn into raging torrents of water."

The closure of the crossings comes after the system that crossed the American Southwest on Thanksgiving Day wreaked havoc on travel as a deluge of rain flooded roads.