Authorities say they have found the body of an 18-month-old girl who, along with her 4-year-old brother, was ripped away from their mother’s arms and swept downstream by floodwaters in rural Arkansas.
Krystal Wiggins was found Saturday afternoon, ending a week-long search by law enforcement officials and scores of volunteers, who scoured several miles along Glade Creek in Madison County. The girl’s brother, Damien Wiggins, was found a few days earlier.
The two children are among the casualties of storms and tornadoes that left a trail of destruction across the South and the Midwest in the past week. The record-breaking floods took an especially deep toll on rural areas in the region, where many lower- and working-class communities are struggling to right themselves. At least 20 people have been killed across several states in the past few days, but the stormy waters were deadliest in Arkansas, where at least seven people, including the two children, have died.
The accident occurred April 29, when the family was moving to a new house owned by the children’s grandparents. Their mother, who had loaded up her SUV with her children’s clothes and other belongings, went the only route she knew. It took them over a low-water bridge along Glade Creek near Huntsville, Ark., a town of about 2,000. That’s where the floodwaters hit them, flipping the SUV and carrying the mother downstream as she tried to hold on to her children.
Rescuers found the mother shortly after, about a mile downstream from the SUV. Her children were nowhere to be found.
“She had wrapped her arms around them, and the water just took them away,” the mother’s sister, Tina Westlin, told The Washington Post earlier.
Damien was found Monday, two days later, a little more than three miles from where the SUV stalled, according to the Madison County Sheriff’s Office. Krystal’s body was found 10 miles away.
Kelly Laird, a relative of the family, said the thought of never finding Krystal haunted loved ones for days.
“They’re relieved that the children will be able to be buried together and laid to rest together,” Laird said Sunday. “The best thing is that they’re found, that they’re together and there’s no one who’s been left behind.”
Laird said the children’s family attended a memorial at Huntsville High School’s football field on Saturday. Shortly after, authorities notified them that Krystal had been found.
“We’re saddened, you know, that this tragedy went on,” Laird said. “But weight has been lifted off of her shoulder, not knowing where her daughter was.”
Authorities said earlier that they’re not publicly identifying the 38-year-old mother while the search was ongoing to give her space to grieve. It was not clear Sunday whether that has changed. Madison County Sheriff Rick Evans did not return a call from The Post.
More than 200 volunteers helped in the search efforts, authorities said. Many showed up with their horses, ATVs and canoes. A farm crop sprayer from Illinois flew his helicopter to help with the search. Government agencies from neighboring states sent search dogs, while nearby schools and churches trucked in food.
Laird said even a woman who is seven months pregnant showed up.
She said the children’s funeral is scheduled for Monday.
“We just want to make sure that they’re not ever forgotten,” she said.