BUENA VISTA, COLO. — A 13-year-old girl said her father shielded her as boulders crashed down on them on a Colorado hiking trail — an action that authorities say probably saved her life even as her father and four other family members were killed.
Rescuers dug Gracie Johnson out of the rubble after Monday’s slide, and she was airlifted to a Denver-area hospital with a broken leg, the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Department said Tuesday. “She told me at the last second when the boulders were coming down on top of them that he covered her up and protected her, which I believe it saved her life,” said sheriff’s Deputy Nick Tolsma.
Gracie’s parents and sister from nearby Buena Vista were killed, as were two of her cousins from Missouri.
The sheriff’s department identified the dead as Dwayne Johnson, 46, and Dawna Johnson, 45, Gracie’s parents; and her 18-year-old sister, Kiowa-Rain Johnson.
The other victims were identified as Baigen Walker, 10, and Paris Walkup, 22, both of Birch Tree, Mo. They were nephews of Dwayne and Dawna Johnson. All five bodies were recovered Tuesday afternoon and identified by a family member, Sheriff Pete Palmer said. Palmer said the coroner will make the final, formal identification.
Dwayne and Dawna Johnson were football and track coaches, respectively, in Buena Vista schools, were well known in the town and very active in community events.
Family friend Mike Carr of Buena Vista said Dwayne Johnson was quick to help others. “Probably his only regret is that he didn’t jump in front of his whole family. He’s just that type of guy,” Carr said. “He probably did that without one bit of hesitation.”
Monday’s slide sent 100-ton boulders onto a popular viewing area that overlooks Agnes Vaille falls below 14,197-foot Mount Princeton in south-central Colorado.
A candlelight vigil was being held Tuesday night at Buena Vista High School’s football field.
A memorial service for the Johnsons was set for Saturday at the high school gym, to be followed by a community meal; separate services were being organized for the nephews in Missouri. Buena Vista’s Cornerstone Church also set up a fund for the family.