TODAY   |  December 05, 2013

Rockslide survivor, 13, recalls her dad’s sacrifice

Gracie Johnson, a 13-year-old girl who was the only survivor of a rockslide in Colorado that killed her parents, sister and nephews, says she is adjusting to her new life with her aunt and uncle. Gracie talks with TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie about her new life and the sacrifice her father made to save her.

Share This:

This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> back now at 7:41 with a remarkable colorado teenager. we will talk to her in just a moment. first nbc has her story.

>> reporter: it was a blue sky day in late september an easy going half mile trail paved the way for the johnson family as they hiked through the forest in colorado. nature was at its best until the union sons crossed paths with its worst.

>> we heard this large crack. kind of a cracking or a thunder sound. then we saw like a big chunk of the mountain slide down.

>> reporter: adam rodgers was halfway up the trail when he saw boulders as beg as cars tumble down the mountain without warning. fearing hikers could be trapped, he called the 911. searchers arrived at the massive unstable scene hoping to find signs of life buried beneath the rubble.

>> i heard a small girl cry out and i could only see her hand coming up through the boulder, so i immediately went over there and tossing off the boulders.

>> reporter: the uncovered 13-year-old gracy johnson told rescuers her father dwayne shielded her in his final moments.

>> her dad is a real he.

>> reporter: saved her life.

>> reporter: in an instant gracie lost her father dwayne and mother donna, both popular coaches, her sister and cousin were also killed.

>> we may never get over this. they were so much a part of every single thing that we ever did.

>> reporter: the sole survivor gracie escaped with a broken leg, thanks to her father whose final brave act was a reflection of his love.

>> and we are joined this morning by gracie johnson along with her uncle dana and darryl johnson and cousin tyler. good morning to all of you. gracie , you are an amazing girl. i know that from spending a few moments with you.

>> i am doing well, i am healing a lot.

>> i heard you got rid of your crutches. isn't that great?

>> yeah. it felt really good.

>> there is so much to get used to and adjust to how are you handling this? how are your spirits?

>> it's a lot different, but i mean i am handling it really well. like i know i have to change a lot and i'm, i mean, i'm doing really good.

>> i know you remember everything that happened and it's too much to even talk about. but i know you wanted to recognize your dad because he did a wonderful thing for you.

>> he really did. i mean, i did cover myself, but i was just standing in the open and he did push me to a rock that was bigger than i was and saved me.

>> he saved your life. your brother, i can't even fathom what a shock this must have been when you heard this news?

>> yeah. i it really didn't set in. it still hasn't, you know, i really miss the guy. when we moved up there, i was the first guy i wanted to call was my brother to let him know, hey, we're moving close to you, but, yeah, it hurt.

>> what would you want people to know about gracie 's parents? i have been reading about them. they seem like wonderful people.

>> they were. they still are. my goodness, everybody in the community still talks about them constantly and dwayne was the life of the party , a great guy. you know, didn't really care about, you know, putting on, you know, any kind of i guess he was just a real guy, you know, just everybody was his friend and didn't know a stranger and donna was one of the most beautiful souls and she was a photographer and did wonderful pictures and they were great parents and, you know, they're really missed in the community.

>> when you live in this community called bethune fa vista. it's a little town , as i understand it. i know it sounds like they have really put their arms around you.

>> yeah, i have always had a caring community. we've always had each other's backs. you know, after this happened, there was so much support that was given to me and like even just like including like they did, were really nice. you know, those are rivals. you know, we have a battle with them. they were just really caring and comforting to us. it's just kind of amazing how it brought everybody together.

>> they were there when it matters. speaking of that, your aunt, uncle did an extraordinary thing. you moved from your town with your son tyler to gracie 's town to all living together. how is that going darryl?

>> it's going great. you know, you run into a lot of people in the grocery store that know us. that's kind of weird. the town is great. we got just everybody supporting us up there. you don't know how many times you hear anything we can do for you, just give us a call. and so it's from everybody. so it's great. it's a great community. actually, it's a bit of a change going to a small town , but it is really nice.

>> you like the town?

>> kind of. a little bit. i leak it.

>> well, you guys show what really matters and that is family. it's truly wonderful. gracie , thanks, for being so great and being here. we wish you all the best.