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Voice heard by Baby Lily's rescuers came from her mother's love, family says

SALT LAKE CITY — One week after the miraculous rescue and recovery of 18-month-old Lily Groesbeck, who was found hours after her mother's car crashed into the Spanish Fork River, family members say they are sure of one thing:

Jenny Groesbeck loved her daughter so much, that even after being killed in the accident, her concern for her baby called out to the first responders who found her.

The men who found the SUV overturned in that cold river on March 7 have since met with the Groesbeck family, telling them about the mysterious voice they all heard crying for help inside the car, spurring them to a rapid and astounding rescue.

"What it should show all of us is an acknowledgement of how much Jenny loved her little girl," the woman's brother, Garrett Groesbeck, told the Deseret News Monday. "I don't think there can be any stronger example of loving someone so much, even after (death). The fact that we have these men — not just one person but all these men — that had the same experience really hit home with us."

The family, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said they are comforted by the belief that their daughter and sister, Lynn Jennifer "Jenny" Groesbeck, was with Lily the whole time the child was trapped in the SUV, and that the toddler was protected by a divine power.

"We can't deny it," said Jill Sanderson, Jenny Groesbeck's sister.

Chad Groesbeck became emotional as he bounced his babbling little granddaughter on his knee and recounted the support — emotional and financial — that has come from people across the nation since the accident. His daughter Jenny loved everyone, he said, and it's no wonder that everyone loves her back.

"The outpouring of love has been mind-boggling. Their prayers and their thoughts were definitely felt," he said. "I did lose my daughter, my kids lost their sister, but we will move on. I'm so thankful that Lily made it."

Chad Groesbeck recalls that he woke up early and unexpectedly the day of the crash, feeling distinctly that something wasn't right. He couldn't call his daughter, who had visited him the night before, because her phone was broken.

"I felt like something was wrong, I didn't know what, but I felt like I had to go find her," he said.

He drove from Salem to his daughter's house in Springville, and when he didn't see his daughter's vehicle, he knew his instincts were correct. From the house, he began to backtrack, driving the streets where his daughter may have traveled, eventually coming upon the scene of the crash and his daughter's red SUV in the river. He pushed through the police barricade, explained who he was, and joined investigators in trying to piece together what had happened.

For Garrett Groesbeck, watching the dramatic body camera footage captured by first responders as they flipped the partially submerged car, found Lily and rushed her to the hospital was only bearable because he knew the outcome: Lily would survive.

"(The first responders) said everything was just flawless, everything just worked," he said. "Every time you hear that, along with what they went through, and the fact that Dad just had this feeling that he needed to be where everyone was … there was definitely help here physically and I definitely believe there was some help from the other side to make it all work for her to be here today."

The miracle extended to Lily's astounding recovery. Anyone who saw Lily in the intensive care unit at Primary Children's Hospital that day wouldn't have believed that just over a week later she would be here, Sanderson said.

If she recovered at all, doctors warned the family that she could face brain damage, paralysis, or other long-term effects as a result of the 14 hours she spent suspended upside down in her car seat in the frigid SUV.

"They were thinking weeks in the ICU alone, but it was five days total," Garrett Groesbeck said.

Instead, Lily is singing nursery rhymes, blowing kisses, and insisting on being held by her grandfather whenever possible. Family members expect that as Lily enjoys a long and happy life, her mother's love will remain part of her.

Questions remain for Baby Lily. She is currently in the temporary custody of Garrett Groesbeck, her uncle, and his wife. Permanent custody will be decided later, they said. But regardless of what that is, she will be raised by the whole family, thanks to a foundation that Jenny Groesbeck unknowingly laid before her death.

"It was really important to Jenny that (Lily) had a close relationship with all of us, and that is proving to be very purposeful now," Sanderson said. "She would give us updates on her, would always make sure we always knew her progress on growing up — her teeth, her crawling, her walking, her playing, what she'd done. And she would always want us to come see her."

The Groesbecks have also been in communication with Lily's father, Deven Trafny, and his family. The two families want to work together to care for Lily, not allowing the little girl to be a source of contention. It's what Jenny Groesbeck would have wanted, they said.

Through it all, the cause of that fatal crash remains under investigation. Police have reported that marijuana, painkillers in an unmarked bottle, and an unused syringe still in its original package, were discovered in Jenny Groesbeck's purse, but it is unclear whether any of that contributed to the crash.

Family members say a possible explanation of the findings is that Jenny Groesbeck had back problems from a previous car accident, and that she was studying medical assisting. Investigators are giving the family regular updates, but it will be weeks before anything will be known for sure, and some questions may never be answered.

"It doesn't change anything for us, though," Sanderson said. "We're still grieving the same amount, still love her the same amount. It doesn't matter to us."

Contributing: Nkoyo Iyamba

Email: mromero@deseretnews.com, Twitter: McKenzieRomero