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'I wish there was something I could have done': Tennessee family mourns loss of twin babies in flood

ryan and rieligh
Posted at 11:13 AM, Aug 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-24 13:13:34-04

Catastrophic flooding in Middle Tennessee has claimed more than 20 lives — among them, 7-month-old twins.

The two babies, Ryan and Rileighana, were torn from their father's arms as a surge of water swamped their apartment in Waverly in Humphreys County, Tennessee. Matthew Rigney, the children's father, was able to save their siblings, 19-month-old Brayla and 5-year-old Maleah.

"We woke up, and water was filling our apartment," Rigney said.

He and the children's mother, Danielle Hall, said the flooding happened instantly at their complex, just 20 feet from Trace Creek.

The sudden surge of water was devastating.

"We heard a loud boom, and it was the door busting in, and water raging through our house," Rigney said.

The parents moved with their four children to a back bedroom, but the water kept rising.

That's when Hall decided to climb out the window.

"I was going for help...I was going to the store behind us. I didn't know it was flooded," she said.

The floodwaters knocked her off her feet, and she barely managed to grab hold of a tree.

Rigney was still inside with the children as the water was rapidly rising. The final watermark in the apartment topped out at about 6 feet.

"I had the twins in my arms, Brayla at my hip and Maleah around my neck. The water, when it hit us, just pulled us under, all of us trapped underneath a bed," Rigney said.

In that instant, the twins were torn from his arms. It was several hours later after the water receded, that the bodies of Ryan and Rileighana were found in the apartment.

"I wish there was something I could have done," Rigney said.

The twins were gone, but Rigney still had the two other children. With the help of a neighbor, they all made it to the roof.

Hall — still clinging to a tree nearby — watched it all happen.

"Through the trees, I saw him get on the roof, but I didn't see my babies, and I screamed, 'Please tell me they are alive,'" Hall said.

She didn't know what happened until she was rescued later by a boat.

"That's the one thing I dreaded, telling my wife that I didn't have all four, like I failed them," Rigney said.

First responders said not Rigney nor anyone else could have prepared for the force of the flash flood or what the deadly waters would do to the family.

"We never, ever imagined we would be burying babies who are 7-months-old," Hall said.

The family moved into the apartment just two weeks ago. A GoFundMe account was set up to help the family, and nearly $60,000 has been raised so far.

Funeral arrangements have been set for the twins. A visitation is planned for Wednesday from 3 to 6 p.m. and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., with service to follow at West Harpeth Funeral Home in Nashville.

This story was originally published by Nick Beres on Scripps station WTVF in Nashville.