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Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch mourns 8 juveniles in I-65 wreck

Published: Jun. 20, 2021 at 9:15 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 20, 2021 at 9:17 PM CDT
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CAMP HILL, Ala. (WSFA) - The children and staff at Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch are grieving after eight juveniles, ages 4-17, affiliated with the nonprofit, lost their lives in a crash on Interstate 65. A ninth person, the ranch’s director, was also in the van but survived the wreck.

“We lost eight children in that van yesterday,” Alabama Sheriff’s Youth Ranches CEO Michael Smith said as tears welled in his eyes.

“And I’ll tell you what I do know,” he said. “Those children are in a much better place. They’re with God, cause they all love God.”

The ranch is a safe haven for needy, neglected or abused children. The girls involved in the accident lived together, played together and were a “family.”

Members of the community clasped hands and came together at Reeltown High, the school some of the girls attended. Children, pastors and residents gathered for a prayer service. Tears rolled down children’s cheeks as they remembered their friends.

“And to hear one of our young girls get up and talk about how she loved her sisters, and...how her family never kept her before,” Smith said. “She’s lost her family before, and now she’s lost her sisters.”

Smith was with the children in Gulf Shores just days ago. He enjoyed a meal with the group. The van driving the kids back from their beach vacation was the one involved in the fatal wreck.

“I felt like the blessed one,” Smith said about one of his last moments with the children. “Having those girls sitting there with us and laughing and smiling.”

A GoFundMe has been created to help pay for funeral costs. Smith is also asking for prayer.

“We need all the prayers and support we can possibly get,” he said.

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