A horse-drawn buggy carrying an Amish family home from dinner toppled in a rain-swollen creek in rural Kentucky, killing four children who were swept away in the swift-moving water, authorities said Friday.
The group was traveling in a downpour in the dark Thursday about 8:30 p.m. CST when the buggy flipped just a mile from their house. The buggy was crossing a creek that is normally a trickle, but often floods during heavy rains.
three siblings: Samuel Wagler, 8; Sarahmae Wagler, 5; and 5-month-old Rosemary Wagler. The fourth victim was their cousin, 11-year-old Elizabeth Wagler.
Hickman County Coroner Paula Boaz said all four children drowned.
Two adults and three other children escaped. The horse that was pulling the buggy also survived.
The father of Elizabeth Wagler told The Associated Press the family had traveled a few miles to his house despite rainy weather to use an Amish community phone. Afterward, the families shared supper before Emanuel Wagler, 29, and his family started for home.
"That's the main reason they came out," Samuel Wagler told The Associated Press. "To call my dad."
The two brothers call their father in Missouri every couple of months.
Elizabeth planned to spend the night with her cousins and joined them for the ride home to his brother's farm, he said.
Graves County Sheriff Dewayne Redmon, who had headed up the search effort after the crash, told reporters he had not interviewed family members.
"We're trying to give the family some time by themselves right now to grieve," Redmon said. "There's no doubt that this was just a terrible accident."
The family was out during severe thunderstorms that had already dropped 2 inches of rain on the area and 2 more inches were expected, prompting the National Weather Service to issue a flash flood warning for the county, meteorologist Rachel Trevino said.
The warning had gone out about an hour before the buggy overturned, after storms had already dropped heavy rain, she said, and more was coming. Trevino said it was possible the family, which likely eschewed electricity and other modern conveniences, had not heard about it.
"It's a very unfortunate. It's very sad. Very, very sad," Trevino said.
The uncle of the 11-year-old girl went to help search after the buggy flipped, and the creek was flowing with waist-high water.
"She was just an all-around good girl," a shaken Levi Yoder, 30, said of his niece.
More than 70 others joined Yoder in the search, combing the creek area on foot with flashlights, calling out for the children, NBC station WPSD-TV reported.
Three bodies were discovered shortly after midnight, with search teams using floodlights and four-wheelers to comb the area. Several hours later, there was still a glimmer of hope the 11-year-old girl could be found alive, clinging to a tree or rock through the night, but her body was discovered about 9:45 a.m. Friday.
The tattered, covered black buggy sat beside the creek in a cornfield. Its wheels were mud-caked and slightly buried in the thick brown soup. Part of the buggy's side had peeled away. A red blanket hung out the cabin door.
“We were hoping and praying for this to have a different outcome. But the story has a very tragic end,” Graves told The Paducah Sun.
The family had been traveling in the farming community of Dublin, heavily populated with Amish, in far western Kentucky near the Tennessee, Missouri and Illinois borders.
The creek flows through farmland along a narrow, paved road.
"Whenever they crossed it, the water was so swift it just took the buggy and tipped it over," Redmon said.
Community offers support
The Amish community in and around Dublin is conservative and private, said Teresa Cantrell, mayor of Mayfield, the closest city.
Neighbors brought food to the farmhouse where the family lived, and an Amish woman was hanging clothes on a clothesline behind the house. Reporters were asked to leave the property.
A non-Amish neighbor, Rachel Marler, said the entire community of Dublin was trying to help.
"The community has stepped up above and beyond," she said.
Kentucky has nearly 8,000 Amish and 31 settlements around the state, according to the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pa. Many Amish in Graves County shun modern conveniences, like appliances, telephones and electric lighting.
Don Kraybill, senior fellow at the Young Center, said Graves County has a population of up to 250 Amish divided between two settlements. The first with about 100 members is based near Fancy Farm and was started in 2001 by Amish from Missouri, Tennessee and other parts of Kentucky, Kraybill said. The other settlement is a group called Swartzentruber Amish, an ultraconservative group.