Family and friends of 5-year-old Austin Rawlings gathered to celebrate her life Friday, Dec. 6.
Her body was recovered Nov. 30 from Tonto Creek after the vehicle she and other family members were in was submerged in water. The body of her 5-year-old cousin, Colby Rawlings, was also recovered. The search continues for Colby’s sister, 6-year-old Willa Rawlings.
Austin’s memorial was held at Christ’s Church of the Valley in her hometown of Peoria.
The parking lot of the church was filled with dozens of cars and the event was attended by children and adults. The mood of the guests varied with people fighting to hold back tears and others remaining cheerful in memory of Austin.
An online posting about the memorial at gofundme raised more than $50,000 for the family.
“Our Austin was an expressive girl who loved music and color. We ask those attending the service to please dress colorfully and bring your smiles,” said Austin’s mother, Lauren Rawlings, in a post.
Indeed, many at the memorial wore bright shirts and dresses.
Guests were welcomed by an entrance decorated by balloons and a picture of Austin as they entered.
Some hugged, others silently held each other close.
On Oct. 2, Dr. Linda Price-Barry, principal of Peoria’s West Wing School, sent the following letter to the school’s community:
“It is with great sadness that I share with you the news that a member of our West Wing Family passed away this weekend. Austin Rawlings died this weekend in a tragic drowning accident in the Tonto Basin. Austin was a kindergartener at West Wing School in (Lindsay) Trefzger’s classroom.
“There are no words that can adequately express the sorrow that accompanies the death of Austin. Our thoughts and deepest condolences go out to her family and friends.
“Students can be deeply affected by such a tragic loss, and we want to share with you the efforts we have made to help your child cope at this difficult time.
“Psychologists and counselors with our district flight team provided assistance and support today at West Wing, and they will continue to provide support to anyone on our campus who needs it.
“During this time, your child may be feeling confused and have a lot of questions about this situation. It is important to listen to your child and discuss his or her concerns. On the back of this letter are guidelines for parents of grieving children.
“Our school community is saddened by this loss. We feel fortunate to belong to such a strong and compassionate school community, where we can support each other through difficult times. I thank you for your support, and if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact our office at 623-376-5000.”