According to authorities, 13-year-old Gracie Johnson was the sole survivor of a deadly rock slide that killed five of her family members on Monday—including her parents, sister and two cousins.
Sheriff’s Deputy Nick Tolsma told reporters Tuesday that he didn’t see the teen trapped under the rocks right at first, but he could hear her screaming. Then he saw her hand sticking out of the rubble, and he started digging. After pulling her from the rubble Gracie told the deputy that her father saved her life. He said, “She said her dad jumped on top of her to protect her right at the last moment when the rocks were coming down.”
No one in the small town of Buena Vista, Colorado, is surprised by what the teen told her rescuers. It’s exactly the type of thing people in the close-knit community of about 3,000 people said they expected from Dwayne Johnson, a part-time assistant high school football coach and electrician. A close family friend, Jennifer Eggleston said:
He would have done the same for any of our children, absolutely.
She added that the town is “devastated” by the deaths of the family:
We may never get over this. They were so much a part of every single thing we ever did. You won’t be able to find a single person in this town that they did not touch.
The sheriff’s office reported that the bodies of the victims were recovered on Tuesday by search crews. The debris field was the size of half a football field, and rescuers risked their own safety to “pull the victims’ bodies from underneath boulders the size of cars.”
The cause of the rock slide, which happened shortly before 11 am Monday morning may never be known for sure, but geologists have said that recent heavy rains coupled with freezing temperatures overnight may have caused the rocks to loosen. Karen Berry, the interim state geologist with the Colorado Geological Survey said that rock slides are not uncommon in that area. She said:
Here, it could be that we have had so much moisture and rain. You could have gotten moisture in those fractures, and those could have lubricated those fractures and created the rock slides. That might have been a contributing factor.
According to Mike Carr, the family spokesman, Gracie was hospitalized at Children’s Hospital in Denver and has undergone surgery to repair a severely broken leg. He said that her grandmother, uncle and friends are with her, and she’s expected to make a full recovery.
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