Authorities pull family vehicle from floodwaters near Tonto Creek where two children died and the search continues for a third.
Courtesy of Randy Roberson
The search for a 6-year-old girl who went missing after being swept away in Tonto Creek during a rainstorm last week now is considered a “recovery” operation, the Gila County Sheriff’s Office said Monday, an indication they do not expect the child to be found alive.
“We would love to keep this hopeful, but because of the circumstances we are considering it a search and recovery,” said Lt. Virgil Dod, an agency spokesman, during a briefing late Monday afternoon about the ongoing search for Willa Rawlings.
“It’s been six days, we’re going our seventh day. We don’t know where (the girl) is at. We just want to find her for the family to get some closure.”
Dodd said the search, which began after the child was swept away with two other children last Friday, would resume at 8 a.m. on Thursday morning.
Officials previously announced the search area had widened along the creek after searchers found one of the girl’s shoes and a pair of her pants.
Dodd said officials will use drones and a remote-controlled sonar device to check a 2-mile stretch of the waters, and possibly a helicopter if the weather allows.
Rains were forecast to move into the area overnight, potentially causing the creek to rise again, he said.
Dodd urged any volunteers to stay out of the water because it could pose a continued danger.
Prior to Monday’s announcement, the search for Willa had been considered a rescue operation.
The girl was one of nine family members in a military-style truck that became stuck Friday while trying to cross Tonto Creek at the Bar X crossing off State Route 188, near Roosevelt Lake northeast of the Phoenix area.
The bodies of her 5-year-old brother, Colby, and 5-year-old cousin, Austin, were found Saturday. Her parents, Daniel and Lacey Rawlings, and four other children were rescued.
The crossing had been closed with barricades and signs because of a storm that dropped an estimated 2 inches of rain in the area.
A memorial service for Austin Rawlings was scheduled for Friday afternoon at a church in Peoria, according to a GoFundMe page set up for the girl’s family.
The Arizona Republic reported Monday the tragedy occurred in an area where nearby residents have been pushing for construction of a bridge for years.
Tonto Creek, which is more than 70 miles long, flows from just below the Mogollon Rim down to lower terrain, where it meets the Salt River. At that point, the waters are controlled by Roosevelt Dam, forming Roosevelt Lake.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
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