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Family involved in snow accident: “Hold your loved ones tight”

Idaho Falls

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ISLAND PARK — It was supposed to be an afternoon full of fun for the Merrill family. They had gathered at a cabin near Mack’s Inn and five young cousins were outside picking icicles from the roof.

Two of the kids left the group to head back inside. A two-year-old stayed behind with her seven-year-old sister and their cousin Ava, also seven.

“All of a sudden the snow on the roof slid off and buried my daughter and her two cousins,” Sara Merrill, Ava’s mother, tells “The pile was 6 to 7 feet high.”

Several feet of snow fell from this cabin roof onto three children below.

Sara’s brother-in-law, Chris Merrill, heard the slide and ran to where the kids had been standing. When he saw the massive pile of snow, he screamed and started to dig.

Others, including his wife and sister, grabbed shovels and rushed to help. The first emergency responders arrived within minutes to help in the search for the little girls.

“We think it was about 25 minutes before they found my daughter,” Sara says. “She was under a 300 to 400 pound ice sheet and they had to drag her out from under it.”

Miraculously Ava was breathing but in an extreme amount of pain.

The digging continued and about five minutes later, Ava’s seven-year-old cousin was found. She had no pulse and rescue workers began CPR. A short time later, she began breathing on her own.

Fremont County Sheriff deputies, Island Park EMS, Madison County ALS and Lifeflight crews all arrived within 20 minutes and everyone started digging for the two-year-old.

Fremont County Sheriff Len Humphries said it took over 30 minutes to find the young child. She wasn’t breathing and didn’t have a pulse but, after intense CPR, a faint heartbeat returned.

Humphries told the situation was “heart wrenching” and two first responders, who asked not to be identified, says EMT’s and law enforcement are “crushed” right now.

First responders say they recovered the two-year-old under a pile of snow and this large chunk of ice.

All of the girls were flown by medical helicopter to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center. The two-year-old died late Friday night with her parents by her side.

Both Ava and her cousin are recovering and were released from the hospital Sunday.

“Ava is bruised but will be just fine,” Sara says. “It’s such a horrible feeling to be so grateful that my daughter is alive and so sad that my little niece has passed away. I’m full of gratitude, very humbled and feeling so very sad.”

Sara, who was raised in Idaho Falls and lives in St. George, Utah, describes everyone who helped in the recovery efforts as “heroes.”

The family is currently planning their two-year-old’s funeral. A fund to cover expenses has been set up at Zions Bank under the name of Chris Merrill.

Sara says their entire family is grateful for everyone’s support and she asks that people continue to pray for the Merrill family.

“I think the only way we will get through this is with faith that we will be with my niece again,” Sara says. “Hold your loved ones tight. Squeeze your little kids. Put down your phone and enjoy them. You never know what could happen to change your life instantly.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Out of respect for one of the families involved, has not mentioned the names of two of the young girls in this story.


UPDATE: One child dead, two in fair condition after ‘freak accident’