Remains found Wednesday in a water- and debris-filled canyon in central Arizona are believed to be those of a missing 27-year-old man who’s the 10th and final victim of last weekend’s flash flood, authorities said.
Gila County Sheriff’s officials said at a hastily called news conference that identification of the body will be subject to DNA analysis by the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
But they believe the body is that of Hector Miguel Garnica and have notified his relatives.
Last Saturday’s flash flood at a popular swimming hole along the river in the Tonto National Forest killed nine of Garnica’s extended family including his wife and three young children.
Nine bodies were recovered by Sunday and the search for Garnica had been hampered since Monday by afternoon thunderstorms that suspended operations.
In recent days, searches have included divers probing ponds of standing water along the river and forestry crews using saws to cut up tree limbs to allow other searchers to dig and check under rocks and deep piles of debris.
Authorities said a DPS helicopter crew spotted the body on the side of the East Verde River just downstream from Shoofly Wash.
Relatives earlier Wednesday announced funeral services would be held early next week for their loved ones who died in the flood.
Jakki Moss, a manager with the local family-owned Messinger Mortuary, said visitation for the victims will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Scottsdale, Arizona. A funeral Mass for the group is set for 11 a.m. Tuesday at the church, she said.
Garnica’s wife, Maria Raya-Garcia, their three small children, his mother-in-law, sister-in-law and other relatives were killed in the flood. The group had gathered to celebrate Maria Raya-Garcia’s birthday.
Just four of the 14 members of the extended family gathered at the swimming hole were rescued after the flood.
One was Acis Raiden Garcia, Garnica’s 8-year-old nephew from Flagstaff, who had told news media he wanted to find the man who swept him to safety. After his mother helped him track down Kelley Markel through a social media search on Wednesday, a meeting for the three was scheduled for next week, several media outlets reported.
The boy and his father, 29-year-old Julio Garcia, his father’s wife, 28-year-old Esthela Atondo, and the couple’s 1-year-old daughter, Marina Garcia, were the only ones to survive.
Questions have arisen about whether the government should or could have done more to warn the public about the dangers of floodwaters in wilderness areas.
Officials have said members of the extended family who died in the flood had no warning about the approaching surge of water.
There is no system currently in place to specifically warn people about the potential dangers of flash floods at the Tonto National Forest.
SOURCE: The Associated Press, Anita Snow and Walter Berry