(WBIR - VONORE) A falling tree killed an 8-year-old girl and injured her 5-year-old brother on Tuesday while the family was visiting their grandparents in Vonore, according to the Vonore Police Department.
Police said Elvin Vence and the children's father John Geli were cutting down a tree when it started to fall toward the Vences' house on Mountain View Road. Investigators said the children started running away from the home when they saw the tree falling, but the tree shifted and fell on top of them.
Police said crews transported Deborah Geli, 8, to University of Tennessee Medical Center, where she died from her injuries. Caleb Geli, 5, is at Children's Hospital with a fractured spine. Hospital officials said Wednesday afternoon he was in good condition.
Family friends Jeanna Crews and Ronda Mostella said they'll remember Deborah as a lively and loving little girl.
"'Ray of sunshine' doesn't even begin to describe her. Personified joy is what she was," Crews said.
Mostella said she'll remember Deborah as "full of life, full of love and full of laughter. Just a wonderful, young little girl."
The two have known Deborah and Caleb their whole lives, as the women both attend Knoxville First Seventh-Day Adventist Church with the Geli family.
"This building was not big enough to hold all the love and joy she brought to the family here," Crews said, adding she's had "a lot of tears, and they're still coming."
The Vences are also longtime church members, Mostella said.
"They're always sitting together during the church service. Very close family," Mostella said, adding this situation is, "very sad. Very sad."
"I guess at this young, tender age, the most we could hope for is that (Caleb) will have some understanding and over time will just have the good memories of his sister, you know, the best memories possible," Mostella said.
She said the congregation is praying for the Vences, who live in Vonore, and the Gelis, who live in Blount County.
"They know that they will see her again. We will all see her again. We all have that hope," she said.
The kids attended the adjacent Knoxville Adventist School, the women said.
"Betty and Elvin are really loving grandparents. The kids were with them a lot," said the Vences' neighbor Johnnie Ruth Carmley, adding she wants the family to know she, her husband and her friends "love you and we're praying for you."
Vonore's Mayor, Dr. Bob Lovingood, asked the community for prayers for the family during this tragic situation.