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Search for girl in rural Arizona creek now a recovery effort

Willa Rawlings (GoFundMe Photo/David Jensen)

TONTO BASIN, Ariz. (AP) – Authorities say the search for a 6-year-old girl missing since being swept away in a rural 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. The girl has now been missing for six days.

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

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.

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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