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‘I lost my sisters’: Former Tallapoosa Co. girls ranch resident grieves loss of 8

Eight children who lived at the ranch died in a 17 car pile-up on I-65
Published: Jun. 24, 2021 at 5:45 AM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The tragic car accident on I-65 in Butler County that claimed the lives of 10 people hit close to home for Debra Walters.

“When you’re a sister, you’re a sister, and absolutely I felt like I lost my sisters,” Walters said.

Eight of the nine children who died in the 17 car pile-up on the interstate near Greenville Saturday lived at the Alabama Sheriffs’ Girls Ranch in Tallapoosa County.

In 1987, at the age of 15, Walters called the ranch home. Since 1973 the ranch has been a haven for abused and neglected children. Walter said she shares a similar story to some of the children who died in the accident.

“I came from an and abusive home. My mother didn’t want me; she told me often,” Walters said. “So I came to the Alabama Sheriffs’ Girls Ranch in Tallapoosa County. I was a nervous and scared 15-year-old. I didn’t trust anybody. I didn’t love anybody.”

The ranch was a refuge for her in the same way it was for the young lives lost in the wreck.

“It’s a place that we can lay our head down and know that we’re going to be ok,” Walter said.

“I may not know some of the girls, but we have a bond and that bond of being a rancher is never broken because we have similar experiences and we’ve lived through things that we should not have lived through,” Walter went on to say.

Walter said the ranch taught her the true meaning of love.

“Over the course of my three years here, the ranch proved that I could love and that I was worthy of being loved, and I could give love,” Walters said.

Walter said she feels as though she lost family the day of the accident but has peace in knowing that just like herself, the children who died in the accident were taught the meaning of love at the ranch.

“I know that these girls were loved. I know they are in heaven and one day I am going to see them again,” Walters said.

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Since the tragedy on Saturday, the girl’s home has received over 500,000 dollars in donations to support their cause.

The Alabama Sheriffs Youth Ranch staff said that the outpouring of support from the community has been tremendous. They said all of those donations would help more young women, just like Debra.

“We have over 6,500 people from all across the country and really across the world that has given money to us to continue this great ministry that we have here, to give children of Alabama, young men, young women, a second chance at life,” said Michael Smith, CEO Alabama Sheriff’s Youth Ranches.

“It is extremely important that people continue to donate,” Walters said. “The ranch is committed to taking care of these girls.”

A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help with funeral expenses, medical costs for the injured and counseling.

The ranch’s director was also in the van but survived the wreck.

A vigil to remember the lives lost and prayer for the community is set for this Friday at Pennington Park in Dadeville, starting at 7 p.m.

A vigil will be held Friday in Dadeville to honor the 8 young lives lost.
A vigil will be held Friday in Dadeville to honor the 8 young lives lost.(Source: Debra Walters)

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