HILDALE, Utah — Members of a polygamous community on the Utah-Arizona border gathered for a memorial service marking the anniversary of flash floods that killed at least a dozen people.
The Salt Lake Tribune reports that members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Short Creek on Wednesday night cursed the flood but praised relief efforts and first responders. About 150 people stood about a mile downstream from where the Hildale victims were swept away.
“While we mourn the tragedy of those who lost their lives, we celebrate the synergy that was born from that event,” said Harvey Dockstader, Jr., one of the memorial’s organizers.
One year ago, three women and 13 children were returning from a park when they stopped at a flooded crossing on a gravel road north of the towns to watch the gushing waters. They were inside a van and SUV when a wall of brown water surged out of a canyon above, swept the vehicles downstream and plunged into a flooded-out embankment, with one vehicle smashed beyond recognition.
The bodies of 12 people were found amid mud and debris miles away. Three boys survived. The body of one boy, 6-year-old Tyson Black, was never found and is presumed dead.
“No one cared what you believed in,” said Terrill Musser, one of the memorial organizers and a former member of the FLDS. “We all had a common goal: Let’s bring Tyson home.”
The same storm killed seven hikers who drowned in a narrow canyon in Zion National Park and a man from nearby Hurricane, Utah.
The memorial was mostly attended by non-practicing FLDS members. No one from the families of the deceased spoke and few women in prairie dresses or monochromatic-dressed men were in attendance.
Dockstader said residents organized the memorial when they learned the municipal governments weren’t planning one.
In an interview before the memorial, Shirlee Draper, a member of a local housing board, said the floods forced the FLDS members to interact with others and softened them. Draper said she believes interactions with non-FLDS members after the floods may have influenced some of the people who left the church in the past year.
“Somewhere in the back of their minds, (FLDS members) know they can come out and be OK,” Draper said.
Musser also said the floods changed the community.
“When people look back 50 and 100 years ago and say, ‘When did Hildale and Colorado City change?’ it’s going to be the flood,” Musser said.