Memorial created for girls ranch children killed in I-65 crash

Published: Dec. 14, 2021 at 7:00 PM CST
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CAMP HILL, Ala. (WSFA) - A memorial now sits on a hill overlooking the Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch.

The steel cross and eight pillars honor the lives of the children lost in a tragic car accident on Interstate 65 in Butler County on June 19.

“We’ll never want anybody to ever forget these young people,” said Michael Smith, Alabama Sheriffs Youth Ranches CEO. “Every time we come to this ranch we can look here and we know that our eight young people are looking over us.”

In June, a 12-car pileup on I-65 claimed 10 lives, including nine children. Eight of the children who died in the horrific crash had ties to the Alabama Sheriffs Youth Ranch in Tallapoosa County, a safe haven for the abused and neglected. The girls ranch van was traveling home from a beach vacation in Gulf Shores.

Tuesday, a memorial dedication ceremony was held at the ranch. Family members of the children, ranch staff and state officials gathered inside the ranch’s chapel to reflect and remember.

Gov. Kay Ivey was among those in attendance.

“You are all a family, and to lose family in this way is just truly unimaginable to me,” Ivey said.

“Please know I continue to pray for your healing,” Ivey went on to say.

Ranch Director Candice Gulley was also in attendance. Gulley was driving the girls ranch van and was the only survivor on board.

Two of the children who passed away that summer day were her own, Bella and Ben. Along with her two nephews, Nicholas and Josiah. Dana, Hailey, Mackenzie and Tia were all ranchers.

“For us, the dedication happened when the dads got together and they went out there and dug the holes and put it in,” Gulley said. “And every day since then, and every night, I’ve been able to look at it and remember our children and see it every day from our office, but we wanted an opportunity to share that with you.”

After lunch inside the chapel, families visited the memorial to pay their respects. The ceremony hit close to home for families of those lost.

“It means that Dana was important, that she was loved,” said Brenda Norman, mother to 17-year-old Dana Norman.

“Like Michael says, we’re all family, and they showed that here today that we’re part of the family and we really appreciate that,” said Dana’s father.

“Please keep our ranchers in your prayers and your thoughts,” Smith said at the conclusion of the ceremony.

There is still healing to be done at the ranch, but there is hope that through faith and family there will be peace.

“God’s got a plan, and we will follow that plan,” Smith said. “And that plan is for us to take care of more and more young people throughout the state of Alabama, and we are going to continue to do that.”

Along with Ivey, there were several members from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency in attendance, as well as the commissioner of the Department of Human Resources.

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