PERRY COUNTY, Ky. — The mysterious death of a high school athlete who spent days helping his fellow eastern Kentuckians clean up from historic flooding has added a new layer of grief to the tragedy.
On Wednesday, Aaron “Mick” Crawford was counted as the 38th person to die as a result of flash flooding that swept away homes and swallowed communities last month in the Appalachian region. The teen’s death was a crushing loss, said Perry County Sheriff Joe Engle, his friend and pastor.
“He was just a joy to be around,” the sheriff said Wednesday.
The last time Engle communicated with his 18-year-old friend, Crawford asked where he could pitch in to assist victims as the floodwaters were surging.
For three days, the strapping high school football player and wrestler assisted in the flood cleanup before suddenly falling ill. He died late last week and was officially added to the list of those who died as a result of the flooding Wednesday.
Crawford's death came a few days after he became ill. His mother, Ronda Crawford, told the Lexington Herald-Leader her son “went into cardiac arrest.”
The family still does not know what caused Crawford’s death, media outlets reported.
The kid who loved superheroes — even making his own costumes — and aspired to become a conservation officer immediately wanted to help others as rain swamped the region, Engle said by phone Wednesday. Last month’s deluge dropped 8 to 10.5 inches (20.3 to 26.7 centimeters) of rain in only 48 hours, unleashing floodwaters that caused massive destruction.
“As soon as we understood we had a major disaster going on here, he messaged me,” the sheriff said. “I’m not sure it had even quit raining yet by the time he sent me a message on Facebook. He said, ‘Wanting to know where to go. Wanting to know where to help.’
"And that was actually the last time I spoke to him.”
While visiting eastern Kentucky on Wednesday, Gov. Andy Beshear said the teen's death was added to the flood death count. A relief fund started by the governor for the stricken region will pay the funeral expenses for Crawford's family, as it has for the families of other victims. Beshear said that Kentuckians are grieving for the teen and "each one of the 38 individuals that are lost.”
Meanwhile, Kentucky lawmakers are crafting legislation to provide relief for the devastated region. Asked Wednesday about progress on the measure, state Senate President Robert Stivers replied: "We’re getting there.” A bill draft is being circulated among lawmakers, in anticipation of a special legislative session that Beshear intends to convene, likely within the next month.
“Whenever he’s ready, we’ll be ready to go,” House Speaker Pro Tem David Meade said Wednesday.
On Monday, President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden saw some of the destruction for themselves as they visited the region to meet with families and first responders. The president said the nation has an obligation to help all its people, declaring the federal government would provide support until residents were back on their feet.
As the cleanup continues, so does the mourning. Crawford's funeral is Thursday.
Crawford, who was known as “Mick,” lived in Jeff, a town in Perry County. Engle, who was the youngster's pastor at Blair Memorial Baptist Church, said Crawford was witty, fun and "strong as a bear.” Engle recalled that Crawford would sometimes use his wrestling moves on him, until his mother would tell him to ”take it easy, you're going to hurt the preacher.'"
But he also was serious about his Bible studies, the sheriff said.
“He was well beyond his years when it came to the spiritual side of him,” Engle said. "He was sort of like a wise, old man spiritually. He knew his Bible. He would go to Sunday school class but he could probably teach some of those Sunday school classes. That’s how well-versed he was in the Bible.”
Crawford’s family told him that after three days of assisting in the flood cleanup, Crawford came home exhausted, complaining that his arms felt heavy, the sheriff said. He eventually was placed on a ventilator, according to media reports.
Engle will speak at the funeral, but another pastor will handle the service. Engle said he didn't think he could “make it through the service and hold up without crying and being able to get a message across. That's how close we were.”
“He’s a super hero to me,” Engle said.