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Family of kids swept away in creek have deep Arizona roots

This Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019, photo shows the road closed near Bar X road and Tonto Creek after a vehicle was washed by flood waters in Tonto Basin, Ariz. Rescuers with helicopters, drones, boats and dogs searched Sunday for a 6-year-old girl missing since Friday, when a truck she was in was swept away while attempting to cross an Arizona creek swollen by runoff from a powerful storm. (Patrick Breen/The Arizona Republic via AP)

TONTO BASIN, Ariz. — An extended family with deep roots in the mountain communities of eastern Arizona mourned the deaths of two children swept away by floodwaters last week as dozens of people searched Monday for a 6-year-old girl who was still missing.

Nine people from the family, which founded several businesses and is active in their church, were riding in an oversized military-style truck that tried to cross an overflowing creek Friday.

It was blocked off with barricades and signs during a storm that dropped an estimated 2 inches (5 centimetres) of rain in the Tonto Basin area, about 50 miles (80 kilometres) northeast of Phoenix.

Authorities on Monday kept searching for 6-year-old Willa Rawlings, whose parents Daniel and Lacey Rawlings, escaped from the truck with four children. Her brother, Colby Rawlings, and cousin, Austin Rawlings, both 5, were found dead Saturday.

Friends say the Rawlings family is heavily involved in their community and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Daniel Rawlings is a church leader and helps run a family contracting business.

His grandparents founded the area’s first movie theatre, the Sho Lo Theatre in Show Low, according to old newspaper articles, and later started a drive-in theatre for recreational vehicles.

The family has always been deeply involved in the community, friend David Merrill said.

He said the Rawlings family volunteers in cemetery cleanups and Lacey Rawlings’ family gets together each year to make and distribute clothing and toiletries to those in need.

“They’re loved by thousands and thousands of people,” said Merrill, one of hundreds of volunteers who helped search for Willa on Sunday.

Funeral services were planned Friday for Austin Rawlings.

“Our Austin was an expressive who loved music and colour. We ask those attending the service to please dress colorfully and bring your smiles,” her mom, Lauren Rawlings, wrote on Facebook. “Thank you all for your kind words, support, and prayers as we traverse through this tragedy.”

The Associated Press