Tombstone falls on child
by Kellen Moore
The heartbreaking accident occurred as a group of children from a Vacation Bible School class was playing in the cemetery of Mt. Paran Baptist Church on Wildcat Road at about 6:20 p.m., according to Capt. Tim Nelson of the Deep Gap Volunteer Fire Department.
As the kids were sitting on and near one particular headstone, a cross-shaped slab slid off the base and fell onto the child, causing a severe head injury.
Pastor Rick Cornejo said his brother-in-law and 16-year-old grandson managed to move the child from beneath the stone, which rescuers estimated weighed more than 1,000 pounds and was about five feet tall.
A Wings Air Rescue helicopter landed in a field off Cowboy Trail to shuttle the child to Johnson City Medical Center in Tennessee, but efforts to save the girl were unsuccessful.
The child was identified as Peyton Townsend, a daughter of Randall and Sarah Townsend. Both parents were at her side through the ordeal, according to those on scene.
Rescuers called educators associated with Parkway School to the church Friday to provide support for the 10 to 20 other children present. A debriefing session for rescuers was scheduled for Saturday afternoon, along with a counseling session for those children.
Cornejo commended those who responded to the tragedy, including Deep Gap Volunteer Fire Department, the Watauga County Sheriff's Office and the N.C. Highway Patrol.
"There's nobody in the world that could of done as good as they did,” he said. “We're just praying right now."