Teen Says Father Shielded Her as Rock Slide Killed Him, 4 Others

The teen was airlifted to a local hospital with a broken leg.

ByABC News
October 1, 2013, 3:19 AM

BUENA VISTA, Colo., Oct. 1, 2013— -- A 13-year-old girl, the lone survivor of a rock slide that killed five people in Colorado, said her father used his body as a shield to protect her when the rocks came crashing down, according to police.

The teen, identified as Gracie Johnson, was airlifted to a Denver hospital with a broken leg after the Monday morning slide sent 100-ton boulders onto a viewing area at Agnes Vaille falls in Chalk Creek Canyon below Mount Princeton.

Chaffee County Sheriff's Deputy Nick Tolsma was one of the first to arrive, hiking about a mile and finding a gruesome scene.

"I heard a scream next to me. I saw a hand sticking out underneath the boulder," Tolsma said of Gracie. "The true hero is her dad. She said her dad jumped on her to protect her at the last moment when the rocks were coming down. I think he saved her life."

Gracie's father, a high school football coach, her mother and a sister died, sources told ABC News. The other victims and their identities have not been officially released.

"Names of the hikers are not being released at this time and further information will be provided as it becomes available," Chaffee County Sheriff Pete Palmer said Monday night.

An unidentified woman who witnessed the rockslide called 911. She was hit in the head by falling rocks, but declined any medical treatment, Palmer told ABC News.

Gracie was taken by helicopter to Children's Hospital in Denver. A spokeswoman declined to release her condition Monday night at the request of the girl's family.

Investigators will be back at the popular hiking trial this morning to recover the bodies. First responders couldn't recover the bodies Monday evening because rocks were continuing to fall.

"They started encountering more rocks coming off the cliff," Chaffee County Undersheriff John Spezze said.

Some of the boulders were the size of cars, Sheriff Palmer said.

The area had a rainy summer and a recent snowfall. It was too soon to know whether the weather prompted the slide, which left a football-field-sized gash in the mountainside, he said.

Spezze said the rockslide caught everyone by surprise.

"I think it was just a freak accident," he said.