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Search for girl in Tonto Creek now a recovery effort

Willa Rawlings
Posted at 7:26 PM, Dec 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-05 19:29:20-05

TONTO BASIN, Ariz. — Authorities say the search for a 6-year-old girl missing since being swept away in an Arizona creek during a rainstorm last week now is a recovery effort and no longer a rescue mission.

Gila County Sheriff's officials say they're trying to bring closure for the family of Willa Rawlings, who has been missing for six days as of Wednesday.

The search is scheduled to resume Thursday morning with crews planning to use a robotic boat that can seek out objects in the murky water that's cluttered with debris and weeds.

Sheriff's Lt. Virgil Dodd said searchers combed a 2-mile stretch of water Wednesday with boats and sonar equipment for any sign of the girl. Teams also used drones and search canines to go through debris. A pair of pants found Tuesday were identified as belonging to her. The girl was one of nine family members in a military-style truck that became stuck Friday while trying to cross Tonto Creek.

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.

The area along Tonto Creek from Punkin Center to Roosevelt Lake floods during major storms and seasonally when snowmelt flows into the reservoir. Residents have been trying for years to build a bridge at one crossing, but have not been successful.

According to friends and neighbors of a family affected by the crash, a verified GoFundMe account has been created for Austin.

A separate GoFundMe was created for Colby and Willa.