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The father of a Texas homecoming queen who drowned when her car was swept off a road by floods says he is both tormented and comforted when he remembers their final phone call.
Speaking to NBC News, Tomas Ramirez recounted his conversation with daughter Alyssa as she returned from her prom at 2:45 a.m. Sunday.
“She wakes me up and I say, ‘Honey what's going on?’ and she says, ‘Dad, what do I do? My car has been in the water. What do I do?’” he said.
“Back the car up,” Ramirez added. “She says, ‘I can't, Dad. The car's tipping.’”
That was the last time he spoke to his 18-year-old, who was driving to her home in Devine, Texas, when she encountered raging floodwaters. There were no barricades on the road and the car stalled in the high water a few miles from her home, her family says.
“I never got to talk to her again,” Ramirez told NBC News. “It was a horrible conversation. But at the same time I got to treasure it because at least I had that conversation with her.”
Rescue workers who found his daughter’s body later told him that Alyssa had a smile on her face, he said.
“You would imagine a child in that situation would just be in absolute terror — It's cold, it's black and she was in absolute isolation," he said. "You would think that when they find a child like that she would have a look of terror on her face, but she did not.
Ramirez added: “I shared it with my family and it brought such comfort to them."
At least 23 people were killed and another 11 were missing in the series of storms that pummeled Texas and Oklahoma, causing historic flooding in a region that had been crippled by severe drought.
The death of Alyssa — homecoming queen, star athlete and student council president — shook her hometown to its core. The First Baptist Church set up four overflow rooms to accommodate the mourners who wanted to pay respects to the athlete and scholar on Tuesday, according to NBC station WOAI.
Even with his grief so new and raw, Ramirez said he found some comfort in thinking about how Alyssa being remembered by those around her.
"This child will best be remembered for just the big old smile she had for everybody, the love she had for everybody," he said. "And her insistence on everybody knowing that there was only one way to heaven and that was through Jesus Christ and she would make sure she shared that with whoever it was."