Lacey Head, who went by the name Lexi, drowned after slipping on a rock and falling into the water, Gadsden Fire Chief Steve Carroll said.
Authorities were called to the gorge about 6:45 p.m. A group of friends from the Rome, Georgia, area had ventured out to a rock island in the middle of the river when the teen lost her footing and fell in, Carroll said.
“There’s a spot in the river where it sort of separates and there’s an island out there of rock,” Carroll said. “They could walk across by jumping from one rock to the next while trying to keep out of the water to get there.”
Authorities said the river was moving swiftly and that Head was carried away by the current. It took first responders time to access the group’s remote location and rappel down to where they were.
Head’s body was located and pulled from the water by two police officers, and emergency personnel tried for more than an hour to revive the teen before she was pronounced dead, Carroll said.
Head’s mother said her daughter had just completed her first year of college at Georgia Highlands, where she was studying to become a physical therapist.
“She was the sunshine to everybody,” Aleshia Channell said through tears. “She was a bright light for anyone and everyone. She was our angel on earth.”
The youngest of three children, Head grew up in Cartersville, but moved to Rome about six years ago, her mother said. The 2018 Pepperell High School graduate worked at an assisted living facility to support herself and earn money for school.
A GoFundMe page was set up to help with funeral costs.