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Body of Arizona girl swept away in floods believed found

PHOENIX (Reuters) – Arizona searchers on Friday recovered what was believed to be the body of a missing six-year-old girl at a lake northeast of Phoenix, the third child to have died when her family’s vehicle attempted to cross a rain-swollen creek, authorities said.

Sheriff’s deputies said they believe they have found Willa Rawlings several miles (km) from where the family’s military-style truck was recovered roughly two weeks ago, a statement from the Gila County Sheriff’s Office said. The family was notified.  

Law enforcement officials and volunteers had been combing the area by foot since Nov. 29, when the truck entered the creek near a crossing that had been deemed unpassable and was blocked off by authorities. Some two inches (5 cm) of rain had fallen in the area during a powerful winter storm.

Sheriff’s deputies said the parents and four children were able to make it out safely.

Searchers found the bodies of the girl’s 5-year-old brother Colby, and a 5-year-old cousin, Austin, about three miles (4.8 km) downstream the next day, said Lieutenant Virgil Dodd, a sheriff’s spokesman.

In an interview with a local television station, parents Daniel and Lacey Rawlings described Willa Rawlings as a confident, self-assured young girl whose favourite colour was magenta and who wanted to be a Disney princess.

Sheriff’s officials have declined to comment on whether the parents would be charged under Arizona law that makes motorists liable for the costs of the emergency response created by those who drive into a flooded area that has been barricaded.

Reporting by David Schwartz; editing by Bill Tarrant and Sandra Maler