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Missing young girl’s pants found in Arizona creek as search continues

Willa Rawlings (GoFundMe Photo/David Jensen)

PHOENIX – Pants belonging to a 6-year-old girl missing since last week in a rural Arizona creek were found Tuesday, but the search for the child continues.

Willa Rawlings’ pants were located three-quarters of a mile from where she was carried off by floodwaters, Gila County sheriff’s Lt. Virgil Dodd said.

Last Sunday, authorities reported finding a shoe that may also belong to the girl about 200 yards from where the family’s vehicle got stuck in the creek.

The bodies of a 5-year-old son and a 5-year-old niece of Daniel and Lacey Rawlings were found Saturday, a day after a nine-member family group tried to a cross Tonto Creek in a military-style truck.

The crossing had been closed with barricades and signs because of a storm that dropped an estimated 2 inches of rain in the Tonto Basin area.

About 60 law enforcement search and rescue team members are searching for the girl along with more than 300 civilian volunteers.

Dodd said the search will resume Wednesday morning despite a forecast of rain.

“That is going to play a big dynamic in our search,” Dodd said. “We need to find Willa.”

Dodd said divers plan to search the murky water in the lower end of the creek’s banks Wednesday.

“There’s still a slight chance that this little girl could have hiked up the river or something,” he said.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said Tuesday he will consider providing money in next year’s state budget to help build a bridge over the Tonto Creek.

Gila County has applied repeatedly for federal funds to pay for a bridge over the crossing where the family truck was swept away while trying to traverse the swollen creek, but hasn’t won a grant for the project, according to county spokeswoman Jacque Sanders. About 1,000 people are cut off when the creek floods during heavy rains.

The governor told reporters that with the state in a good financial position, looking at ways to fund a $20 million bridge to serve the small community is in the mix. The county has sought $17 million in federal funds and would pay for the remainder.

“We’re going to look at the infrastructure needs of the state and I’ve heard the asks on this bridge,” Ducey said. “It certainly is going to be considered in this budget season.”

The county’s federal grant application says five people had died crossing the creek in the past 25 years. That was before last Friday’s tragedy.

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