GAMALIEL — More than 600 people turned out Saturday to continue the search for a missing Monroe County teenager, whose car was swept away by flood waters on Dec. 31 when she attempted to cross the Earl and Larry Lyons Bridge over East Fork Creek near Gamaliel.
The body of 19-year-old Leah Carter of Gamaliel was found on a river bank about five miles from where her car had been swept off the bridge.
Carter placed a 911 call to Monroe County's dispatch center at 6:57 p.m. on Dec. 31. Fire and rescue personnel, as well as law enforcement personnel, responded and immediately began searching for Carter, but they could not find her.
Todd Burgess, a member of the Gamaliel Volunteer Fire Department, was among those who responded to the emergency call.
Burgess explained the weather conditions were bad that night.
“It was solid rain and swift water. It was flooded. It was raining. It was cold and foggy,” he said.
The Earl and Larry Lyons Bridge is known to flood. Signs are posted on either side of the bridge warning motorists it is impassable during high water.
Emergency personnel continued their search on New Years Day and throughout the week.
“The water had been in several places 10 to 12 feet deeper than it usually was,” said Trooper Nick Hale, public affairs officer with the Kentucky State Police. “For the first few days they wouldn't have been able to see where she was located.”
Carter's body was found Saturday by civilian volunteers. About 1,900 people turned out over the six-day period to search for her.
“It wasn't just Monroe county. I mean, Monroe County, we typically take care of our own. Everybody does a great job coming together, but when you have people from three or four states coming in, flying in, driving in, coming in to help, it's unusual,” Burgess said.
A group of people came from Ohio to help.
“They heard about it and they felt they needed to help. That renews your heart,” he said.
There were also volunteers who came from Virginia, West Virginia, Indiana and Tennessee, as well as from all across the state.
Peggy Stafford, who owns Gamaliel Flowers and Ceramics, said she thought it was wonderful that so many people turned out to help with the search for Carter.
“I would say there were hundreds, with the volunteers and everyone who came in to help like the divers and people like that, especially the local people. I think everybody here was out looking,” she said.
Stafford knew Carter and her family. She described Carter as being “a very kind-hearted, good person.”
Sharon Eakle of Gamaliel also knew Carter.
“She was just a fine little person. She was a good student and she worked,” Eakle said.
Carter was a nursing student at Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College. She also worked at The Palace Health Care and Rehabilitation Center in Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee. Maggie Braswell, marketing director for The Palace Health Care and Rehabilitation Center, issued a statement to the Glasgow Daily Times on the nursing facility's behalf.
“Leah was a kind, dedicated and caring employee with an easy going spirit that was contagious to be around. Leah expressed uncompromising levels of compassion to her residents here at The Palace Health Care and Rehab,” Braswell said in the statement.
She also described Carter as being one of the most genuine people anyone could meet.
“For instance, she was a secret Santa for a fellow employee who was having a hard time during the holidays,” Braswell said.
Carter went out and bought a new pair of shoes for her fellow employee, as well as toys for each of the employee's children.
“Leah was a friend to all and never met a stranger. Christine, our director of nursing, recalls a conversation with Leah over being spoiled, and Leah stated 'I have had a good life,'” Braswell said.
She continued that Carter was described by others as not only the type of person everyone strives to be, but also the type of child everyone wishes they had. “Residents described her as someone 'who always did a lot for us,' as well as 'a kind and sweet girl.' Leah was passionate about the nursing field and had a givers' heart who always went above and beyond for anyone and everyone she could,” Braswell said.
Upon hearing the news that Carter was missing, Braswell said many staff members donated time and helped with food and other items when needed.
“We are in the caring business and Leah was the type of employee that was a poster child for positive attitude. Our hearts are heavy with the loss of not only a wonderful employee but also a great friend,” Braswell said. “We prayed for a different outcome but are relieved that the efforts made were able to give closure to her family. Leah will be missed but not forgotten. Our condolences are to the family and all others that Leah touched over her life.”
The loss of Carter has also been devastating on the Gamaliel community.
“It's just a tragedy. You don't want to see this happen in any community,” Burgess said.
Eakle said the loss of Carter “has been just devastating on everyone.”
Carter attended Gamaliel United Methodist Church. The marquee in front of the church said, “Pray for Leah!”
There was also a request for prayer for her family on the Tompkinsville Church of Christ's marquee.
A candlelight prayer vigil was held on Gamaliel United Methodist Church on Thursday, and a moment of silence was observed for her at the Monroe County and Allen County-Scottsville ballgame on Friday.
Funeral services for Carter are scheduled for 1 p.m. on Wednesday at Strode's Gamaliel Chapel. Visitation will take place from 3 to 9 p.m. Tuesday and after 7:30 a.m. Wednesday at the funeral home. Burial will be in the Gamaliel Cemetery.
Memorials are suggested to the Gamaliel Volunteer Fire Department Leah Carter Fund for Rescue and Recovery.