On the same day Kevin Johnson buried his mother, searchers found the body of his 34-year-old son who drowned while trying to save his grandmother from flash flooding that ravaged their tiny Appalachian community.
Scott Johnson’s body was found near the cemetery where his grandmother was buried.
Days of searching along a muddy, debris-strewn creek ended when Johnson’s body was located Friday evening in a pile of rubble pinned beneath a mobile home swept from its foundation in the devastated Flat Gap area in eastern Kentucky, Johnson County Coroner J.R. Frisby said Saturday.
Overlooking where the body was retrieved was the hillside cemetery where Scott Johnson’s grandmother, Willa Mae Pennington, was laid to rest.
“You could look from where we buried her and see right where he was at,” Kevin Johnson said. “He didn’t leave her after all.”
Four people were killed in the rushing floodwaters. Johnson had been the last person still missing, Kentucky State Police said.
Kevin Johnson last saw his son Scott wading through floodwater with his 74-year-old grandmother on his back.
Scott Johnson had already guided his father, uncle and sister from the raging flood that inundated their cluster of trailers. He turned back one last time to save his grandmother, called Nana, and a 13-year-old family friend.
He had watched his son push the boy to safety in the branches of a catalpa tree and hoist his Nana onto his back, only to be swept away.
“There are very few people who would do what he did,” Kevin Johnson said.
Rescue crews combed the devastated area, which stretched more than 8 rugged miles from Flat Gap south to Staffordsville. They battled swarming mosquitoes and snake-infested creeks, piles of rubble 10 feet tall and mud so thick it could suck the shoes off their feet.
Dozens of homes were destroyed in the hardest-hit area.
Scott Johnson’s family and friends did their own search by boat and on foot from morning until evening.
Frisby said it was two dogs belonging to a deputy sheriff that ultimately led searchers to Johnson’s body. The lawman lives near where the trailer came to a rest along a creek, and his dogs kept going near the trailer and barking, the coroner said.
The dogs were suspected of barking at a dead deer. But their persistence eventually led searchers to Johnson’s body, Frisby said.
It took searchers about an hour to cut through the thick debris — which included remnants of mobile homes and trees — to reach the body, he said. Some of Johnson’s relatives watched grimly from across the creek as the search team made its way to Johnson.
Johnson’s body floated about a mile downstream from where he was last seen, the coroner said.