An Arizona couple is facing criminal charges after two of their children plus a third child drowned when the family vehicle carrying the parents and seven kids allegedly went around a barricade and was swept away in a flooded creek over Thanksgiving weekend last year.
Daniel and Lacey Rawlings each were charged with seven counts of child abuse. In addition, Daniel, who was behind the wheel of the military-style truck, was charged with three counts of involuntary manslaughter.
The charges were confirmed to PEOPLE by Mike Johnson, a spokesman for the Gila County Sheriff’s Office.
The incident occurred Nov. 29 after authorities had placed a barricade to turn vehicles away from the Bar X Crossing at Tonto Creek following heavy rain.
Traveling with his wife, four children and three nieces in the vehicle, Daniel Rawlings allegedly bypassed the barricade and the vehicle was swept up in the rushing water, reports KPHO.
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The parents and four of the children were rescued by helicopter. The bodies of the couple’s 5-year-old son, Colby, and the boy’s cousin, 5-year-old Austin Rawlings, were recovered the following morning.
Nearly two weeks later, the body of Colby’s sister, 6-year-old Willa, was found Dec. 13 on the edge of a lake several miles away.
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As searchers looked for the girl, Willa’s father told KPHO, “I will say one thing: People go around the barricades all the time. I’m not justifying my actions one bit. There could be more done.”
An attorney for the parents was not immediately identified. Reached by KPHO after the charges were filed, Daniel Rawlings told the outlet, “No comment.”
Lacey Rawlings earlier answered those who questioned the parents’ actions by telling the outlet, “We don’t have anything to say to them. Everybody’s a critic, and they’re keyboard warriors. Those people may not have ever gone through something tragic in their life.”
“I hope they never go through something like this and have to learn what it really feels like,” she said.
She added: “The amount of love we’ve been shown, I didn’t know it was possible. We feel it. We feel the arms wrapped around us, we feel all the prayers, we feel it all. I’m extremely grateful.”
Johnson said the parents had not been arrested or booked on the charges. (People.com Latest News) More