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Hagan has always been “very independent,” said Gunnels, who describes herself as a “neighborhood mom” in the old railroad town near Auburn University.

“I think she willed this to happen,” said Gunnels. “She’s just that determined. Who would have that that a girl from Opelika, Alabama, would ever do that?”


Moore is based in Phoenix. Jay Reeves contributed from Birmingham, Ala., and Deepti Hajela from New York City.


Hannah Dreier can be reached at