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Eight children killed in a car pileup on a slick Alabama highway a month ago were celebrated Thursday by hundreds of mourners who lined the pews of a megachurch and watched doves released into the open sky. Substantial sums were also sent directly to the faith-based service organization that housed them, its CEO said.
The lost teens who had lived at the rural Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch — Dana, Haley, Makenzie and Tia — were identified at the public celebration of life Thursday by their first names only. The ranch and the Alabama Department of Human Resources both declined to release the full names of the three girls who were in foster care, but two have been fully identified in online memorials.
In other photos, they worked the grounds of the rural youth ranches, fished and played together. Tearful and clasping tissues, Gulley met thundering applause from the roughly people gathered at the Church of the Highlands in Auburn, 50 miles outside of Montgomery. They were a blessing to my life. With scripture from 2nd Timothy on the screen behind him, Alabama Sheriffs Youth Ranch CEO Michael Smith acknowledged the thousands of people across the country who had sent donations. Tommy Tuberville R had called to offer his condolences and the U.
9 out of 10 girl at youth ranch held a moment of silence for the crash victims. The fourth — like most residents of the deeply religious residential Christian youth program — came to the ranch through a private placement. Haley Marie Logan, a year-old brunette with a heart-shaped face, began living in foster and group homes asoften winning fans among those who cared for her over the years. On a publicly available obituaryformer caregivers and friends described a girl who cheered people up and let them know she cared.
According to her obituary, Haley is survived by two sisters, two brothers, parents and a grandmother, as well as many aunts, uncles and cousins. At the memorial, Neuhoff remembered Haley as a creative and energetic girl who loved projects, from cooking to fixing up bikes. Fourteen-year-old Tia, who was also in foster care, leaves behind a younger sister and brother, who she loved so much she listed their birthdays beside hers on her Instagram profile.
Her social media posts also chronicled the sadness that came with frequently moving between different homes and parts of the state. In a post, she worried about having to go to court, asking friends to pray for her. She read the crowd of mourners an apology note that Tia had written to her once after being punished for lying. I need help with the devil on my shoulder. His wife also recalled how, during a grocery stop on the beach trip, Tia and Haley noticed a mother struggling to manage her children in a checkout line.
The girls immediately went over to entertain the kids, help the mother load her groceries, and pray with her, he said. Stephanie Strong also shared her memories of foster youth Makenzie.
The year-old was sweet and encouraging to the other girls, she said, leaving them notes and making time to help them with their hair and makeup before special occasions. The teen was especially close with her year-old roommate, Dana Marie Norman, who, like most of the other girls at the ranch, had been placed there by her family rather than by the foster care system. Dana was both strong and gentle: A taekwondo red belt who often graced her family and friends with her singing, accompanying herself on the guitar.
Adopted at age 9, Dana is survived by seven siblings in her adoptive and biological families. For some, Smith said, the beach trip was a first. About halfway home, just after p. Seven vehicles quickly caught fire, including the ranch van.
The speed and intensity of the blaze prevented bystanders from rescuing the children inside, and all eight died at the scene. The only person pulled free of the wreck was the driver, Gulley, who had been knocked unconscious. She suffered a head injury and broken ribs, and was hospitalized in serious but stable condition. In a different SUV involved in the crash, two members of a Tennessee family were also killed: Cody Fox, a year-old emergency management worker, and his 9-month-old daughter Ariana Carlene Morgan-Fox. The National Transportation Safety Board is conducting a full investigation, which could take more than a year, though a preliminary report is expected to be released soon.
The second van from the ranch carrying the rest of the beach-goers was saved by the decision to stop for lunch at a Cracker Barrel a few miles earlier. At an impromptu vigil at Reeltown High School the day after the accident, one of the girls from the second van spoke about the friends she lost — her sisters, as she calls them.
But this was a wonderful family while I had it. The nonprofit supported by a private association of sheriffs currently operates three ranches, with a fourth slated to open next year. Each is dotted with family homes that typically house five to seven children, overseen by a pair of house parents — some residents even refer to them as mom and dad. The ranches also employ d social workers who work with the youth and communicate with their families and the child welfare agency. Last year, Smith began working to reopen a long-dormant fourth youth ranch that required extensive renovation but said he will not use any of the money raised from the GoFundMe to fund that project.
The residents attend school in nearby Reeltown, a community of fewer than residents. In contrast with a national push to limit the use of group homes and residential treatment centers other than for short-term therapeutic reasons, the Alabama youth ranches are deed for lengthy, years-long stays. Some youth choose to remain at the ranch until the age of 21, which is allowed as long as they are in trade school or college and maintain a C average. One young man has called one of the organization's other ranches home for 11 years, Smith said.
Though they strive to serve young people struggling with the trauma of childhood abuse or neglect, the ranches are not intended to be therapeutic settings, he added; the model relies on structure and a strict adherence to Christian family values.
The children pray with their house parents every morning and attend local churches twice weekly. Jacob Powell is a freelance reporter for The Imprint. He is based in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and can be reached at [ protected].
Your support allows The Imprint to provide independent, nonpartisan daily news covering the issues faced by vulnerable children and families. Photo courtesy of Alabama Sheriffs Girls Ranch. Photo by Jacob Powell. Newsletter up.
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