Gov. Kay Ivey was among the officials in attendance Tuesday as the memorial was dedicated at the Tallapoosa County Girl’s Ranch. The director of the home, Candice Gulley, was the driver and sole survivor of a ranch van that was involved in a traffic pileup as remnants of a tropical storm crossed the Southeast on June 19.
Four girls who lived at the ranch were killed, along with two of Gulley’s children and two of her nephews. A Tennessee man and his daughter died in a separate vehicle in the multiple-vehicle crash, which is now the subject of a lawsuit.
The memorial, which was in place before the ceremony, is a comforting presence, Gulley told WSFA-TV.
“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.”
Relatives of the children, ranch workers and state officials gathered inside the ranch’s chapel to reflect and remember the dead.
“You are all a family, and to lose family in this way is just truly unimaginable to me,” Ivey said.
After lunch inside the chapel, families visited the memorial to pay their respects. Relatives of those lost say the memorial and the ceremony provide some solace.
“It means that Dana was important, that she was loved,” said Brenda Norman, mother of Dana Norman, 17.
A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board released in August said the crash happened on a rain-slicked highway after a tractor-trailer truck slammed into vehicles that had slowed down because of minor crashes. The multiple collisions caused a fire that burned two 18-wheeler trucks, the van and three other vehicles, the report said.