Editor’s Note: The video top of this story contains footage that is graphic in nature. It may not be suitable for sensitive viewers, reader discretion is advised.
WASHINGTON COUNTY — A photo taken moments before a fatal flash flood in a polygamous town on the Utah-Arizona border along with dramatic video footage of the ravaging water as it washes away an SUV and van, carrying three women and 13 children, shows how flash floods can overwhelm and overpower without warning.
Hildale resident John Willis Barlow captured a photo just moments before the tragic series of events unfolded. It shows the women and their van and SUV, both occupied by their 13 children, as they waited near the widening stream for the water to recede so they could cross.
The women would then get inside the vehicles with their children and, in an instant, a huge flow of water and debris came barreling down from the canyon behind them.
Video footage taken by Hildale resident Virginia Black shows how the flood waters engulfed the vehicles, forcing them downstream in the turbulent water before they tumbled over a 30-foot ravine.
The force and intensity of the flood washed the two vehicles hundreds of yards downstream. The two vehicles were later found about a quarter-mile away.
The Hildale flood incident management team produced a map Thursday showing the locations along Short Creek where the flood victims had been recovered.
During a news conference Wednesday, town officials provided details of the flood victims, including a 6-year-old boy who, as of Thursday, has still not been found:
Naomi and Josephine Jessop, sisters who were the plural wives of Joseph Newell Jessop, along with seven of their children, ranging in age from 5 to 11, were in the large white van swept away by the rolling waters and died. An eighth child in the van was its only survivor. The bodies of those who died in the van have been recovered.
Della Black, the wife of Sheldon Black Jr., and at least two of their children, were in the black Suburban swept away by the flash flood and died. One other son, Tyson Lucas Black, is still missing. Searchers continue to look downstream for his body. Two other Black sons in the vehicle survived the ordeal. The children ranged in age from 4 to 11.
Hildale Mayor Philip Barlow said one of the three surviving children remained in the hospital Wednesday, but said he could not offer any other family information and asked the media to respect the community’s privacy.
“We know you appreciate the tenderness they’re experiencing at this time,” Barlow said.
Various members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints community said they were not official spokespersons for their church and were instructed by leaders not to speak with media, even about efforts to help with the flood.
“Hildale and Colorado City are humble communities, which are not accustomed to the volume of attention generated by an incident of this magnitude,” town officials said. “As residents continue to mourn the loss of their community members, we ask that both volunteers and the media respect their right to privacy.”
(Report continues below)
However, Sheldon Black Jr. stood with three of the boys who survived the ordeal and spoke about the tragedy during an emotional press conference Thursday morning:
Our gratitude is beyond words for the kindness and support that we’ve received in this great tragedy. Our family has had many years together, sharing our times, laughter, tears. The interest that has been shown on our behalf across the nation has been overwhelming.
Sheldon Black Jr. then spent the remaining majority of time reading from a prepared speech about being evicted from his home as a result of a United Effort Plan Trust controversy.
The UEP Trust – reformed by the 3rd District Court to administer housing solutions and other benefits for FLDS members – was taken out of former-FLDS leader Warren Jeffs’ control in 2005. Those living on UEP land were asked to sign occupancy agreements and were billed $100 per month in occupancy fees to be paid to the trust. In 2014, Utah’s 3rd District Judge Denise Lindberg called for polygamous residents who have not been paying those occupancy fees to be evicted and a series of evictions have taken place.
“All FLDS will be without a home by the end of this year,” Sheldon Black Jr. said. “We ask that this religious genocide stop.”
Black also said the funerals for his family members would be private.
Joseph Jessop, husband of Naomi and Josephine Jessop, also spoke at the conference Thursday, accompanied by his son, also named Joseph Jessop, who was the only survivor from the van.
Joseph Jessop again expressed gratitude to rescuers for saving his son.
“So very much from the bottom of my heart,” Joseph Jessop said, “thank you for rescuing our children, our family members, for all the support you have given us in our time of grief.”
However, like Sheldon Black Jr., Jessop talked about his home being taken and also used the term “religious genocide” to describe what is happening in Hildale and Colorado City, Arizona, with the UEP Trust.
Related posts – Flash flooding Sept. 14
- Last of 7 canyoneers’ bodies found since flash flooding of Zion slot canyon
- Missing Hurricane man’s SUV found in a flood plain, search continues
- Hildale to get $100,000 in emergency watershed repair funds
- Search continues for 6-year-old boy in aftermath of Hildale flood
- 18 found dead in 2 days in Washington County flash floods, 2 missing; new video
- News LIVE: Fatal flash flood in Hildale
- Drone footage captures Hildale flood devastation
- Gov. Herbert, others, ‘heartbroken’ over Hildale flood fatalities; photos
- UPDATED: Search crews recover 4th body; 3 still missing after flash flood, Zion National Park
Related posts – UEP Trust and FLDS evictions
- 19 more FLDS evictions; retaliation against constable, UEP consultant; STGnews Videocast – July 2015
- Eviction action taken on 10 more FLDS homes – May 2015
- FLDS trust auctions off Meadowayne Dairy, fire station, almost 1,000 acres – March 2015
- FLDS ‘concentration camp’ goes up in Colorado City; UEP must evict or lose land – December 2014
- City-sanctioned tent city, more evictions on horizon for FLDS members – August 2014
- Judge calls for eviction of FLDS residents delinquent on fees – June 2014
- Judge narrows field of potential United Effort Plan trustees; public comment invited – February 2014
- Utah AG sets community meeting re United Effort Plan Trust; Hildale, Colorado City – August 2012
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