A 4-year-old girl was killed Friday night, after part of a tombstone in a church cemetery fell on top of her.
Church members are in a state of shock over this tragedy. Peyton Townsend was killed just minutes before a vacation Bible school study.
Several children were playing and running around in the church backyard Friday night. The pastor of Mount Paran Church, Rick Cornejo, said the kids were just burning off energy before the start of class. The backyard doubles as a small cemetery, where about two dozen people are buried.
“It’s a freak accident,” said Josh Ruppard, a neighbor to the church’s property. “Something like this could happen to anyone’s kid.”
The pastor says Peyton was standing on a headstone when a massive cross fell on top of her and crushed her. The pastor estimates the cross weighed more than 1,200 pounds. It was removed after the accident.
“There’s no more smiling or thinking of good things after this,” said church member Seth Miller. “You’re just thinking, ‘oh my God, someone died here.’ ”
The grave belongs to Miller’s cousin. Miller lives down the street, and rushed over to the church when he heard fire trucks nearby and a helicopter overhead. That’s when he saw Peyton, lying on the grass.
“You get that jolt, and then, suddenly, you get really scared. And that’s what this was. My face turned red, and I was just like, ‘Wow.’ It just kind of hits you,” said Miller.
Petyon’s father, Randy, has been a state trooper since 2009. This afternoon Eyewitness News saw several Highway Patrol Troopers talking with Cornejo about the tragedy.
Cornejo didn’t want to go on camera, but he said there will be a special balloon release after Sunday morning’s service.
Funeral services will be conducted on Monday night at 6 p.m. at the First Baptist Church in Blowing Rock. Graveside services and the burial will be private.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Lily Grace Townsend Educational Fund, in care of State Employees Credit Union, 1470 Blowing Rock Road, Boone, N.C. 28607.