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Hildale • As searchers continue to comb through mud and debris in search of a missing 6-year-old boy swept away in the dramatic flash flood that ripped through this Utah-Arizona border town, former members of Hildale's predominant faith are pondering a public memorial to honor the dead and heal the heartbroken.
In all, 13 women and children died in the flood that spilled over the banks of the Short Creek Wash, which cuts through Hildale and its sister community of Colorado City, Ariz. a loss that has emotionally devastated residents in and out of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and garnered sympathy from across the nation.
"This is a nation that needs closure on the grieving, not just a community," said Dee Barlow, a former FLDS church member. He said a public vigil is in the planning stages but likely would not be held until the body of missing Tyson Lucas Black is recovered.
As search efforts resumed Thursday morning, the boy's body was unaccounted for, despite the efforts of the team of 26 Utah National Guard's 2-222nd Field Artillery Battery B and 24 searchers of Utah Task Force 1, whose specialty is searching through the aftermath of disasters.
Search teams walked with dogs and hand tools, prodding the ground for the boy's remains along a 7-mile section of the wash, which begins near the mouth of Maxwell Canyon in Utah and stretches across the border into northern Arizona.
On Wednesday, Hildale's residents, many of them women in long, 19th-century-style dresses, also took up shovels on their own, digging into piles of damp mud despite warnings from Washington County officials about the dangers of banks giving way.
The Hildale flood has been called the single most deadly weather event in Utah history.
The disaster occurred about the same time Monday that seven hikers were swept away by raging water in Zion National Park's Keyhole Canyon, roughly 45 miles northwest of Hildale. The bodies of six people had been recovered by park officials by Wednesday night, and one person was missing. None of their identities had been released.
All of the Hildale victims are believed to be members of the Warren Jeffs-led FLDS church, which practices polygamy as part of its religious beliefs.
Among the dead were sisters Della Johnson and Naomi and Josephine Jessop, Hildale Mayor Phillip Barlow said at a news conference Wednesday.
Della Johnson, who was married to Sheldon Black Jr., was in an SUV along with five of the couple's children, ages 5 to 10.
Two of the children, both boys, survived, officials said.
Josephine and Naomi Jessop were in a 15-passenger van with eight of their children, who were between ages 5 and 11. One child, also a boy, survived, authorities said. He appeared in public on Tuesday when his father, Joseph Jessop, met with a group of reporters. Church marriage records seized by police during a 2008 raid on an FLDS ranch in Texas list both sisters as Joseph Jessop's wives. The documents also list Joseph Jessop as one of the drivers who ferried the now-imprisoned Jeffs between church enclaves and safe houses in 2005 when he was on the run from law enforcement.
On Wednesday, however, multiple sources told The Salt Lake Tribune that like many church members who had fallen out of favor with Jeffs in recent years, Jessop had been sent away by church leaders and had not seen his family for at least two years.
The names of the deceased children are to be released once the last boy is found, authorities have said.
Of the survivors, two boys climbed out of the vehicle they were riding in near where the cars washed up about a quarter-mile from where they became caught up in the flood. The third escaped his vehicle about a mile down the wash and swam to safety, said Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulsipher, who met with two of the boys.
"They're really traumatized," Pulsipher said. "It's hard for them to communicate."
Rescue workers recovered six bodies in Utah and six in Arizona, Pulsipher said.
The bodies recovered in Utah have been taken to a mortuary, and a state medical examiner is expected to conduct autopsies, he said. The status of the bodies located in Arizona was unclear Wednesday, he added.
At a news conference, Phillip Barlow said he was pleased with the support, assistance and resources the community has received from state officials and law enforcement.
"I'm amazed at what's come to help us," the mayor said.
The outpouring of kindness may also ease some of the distrust from the normally insular community, which historically has feared law enforcement and where church members are discouraged from mixing with outsiders or with former church members, even if they are family.
"I would sure hope so," Phillip Barlow said. "Because it sure has been wonderful."
FLDS church leaders who continue to look to Jeffs to lead the church despite his incarceration in Texas after a conviction on multiple sexual assault charges have not issued any public statements about the flood or the deaths of church members.
The flood has forced many current and former FLDS members to work shoulder to shoulder despite the deep community divides, and it has reconnected some family members who haven't spoken in years.
On Wednesday, for example, LeRoy Stubbs, who left the faith in 2002, was standing with his stepbrother on a bridge overlooking Short Creek Wash when an FLDS woman he recognized walked by. Stubbs said he asked the woman if she were "a Barlow." She replied with a "yes."
"Hey, that's your Aunt Maxine," Stubbs told his companion.
It was, he said, the first time in 13 years he had spoken to the woman, even though the two had grown up together.
Neither Barlow nor Pulsipher knew Wednesday whether the families of the deceased had made funeral arrangements, and the sheriff said he doubted such events would be public.
"They're private, and they are going to mourn in their own private way," he said.
However, a fund to cover expenses to support the families had been established using the same post office box as a Hildale construction company, Phaze Construction.
Dee Barlow, however, was among a group of former FLDS questioning whether any donated funds would reach the families if the money goes through Phaze.
A Salt Lake Tribune investigation found that the company helps finance the FLDS church by sending some of its payroll dollars directly to the sect.
"There are concerns that the donations are fronts for the church," Dee Barlow said.