Parents vs. The Tornado: When Doing Everything Isn't Enough

I would do anything to protect my children.

We all say it. We all mean it. Most of us, blessedly, never have to do it. But this week the world watched parents who actually did. As a tornado churned its way through Moore, Oklahoma, we saw parents do anything, everything -- and also saw that sometimes even that is not enough.

Joshua Hornsby did it. He had to decide who to pick up first -- 9-year-old Ja’Nae, a third grader at the Plaza Tower Elementary School, or 2-year-old Jia, who was in daycare. He headed for Ja’Nae. LaTisha Garcia did it, too, racing the 30 miles that separated her job in Edmond, OK. from her daughter Jazmin, at Plaza Tower.

Echo Mackey did it, driving through hail to pick up her third grader, Logan. Scott Lewis made the same knuckle-white trip, to find 9-year-old Zack.

Other parents were racing other places. When 4-year-old Shellbie Johnson suffered a full-blown asthma attack as the storm approached, and the radio warned that no one should be outside, her mother, Sarah, put a hard-hat on Shellbie and drove through pounding hail to a nearby emergency room. They arrived as the tornado hit, and Johnson “shoved her daughter next to a wall and threw a mattress on top of her,” the New York Times reports.

Shannon Quick grabbed 8-year-old Jackson and 13-year-old Tanner and huddled in a closet as the tornado ripped their home apart around them. Megan Futrell dashed into a 7-Eleven and held tight to 4-month-old Case in the walk-in cooler when she saw she could not race the twister home. Laurinda Vargyas clung to 7-month-old Syndee and 4-year-old Karrina, crouching in the bathtub, and worrying for her older children, Damon, 11, and Aria, 8, who were still at school.

Sarah Johnson and Shellbie made it out alive. Shannon Quick died while emergency workers tried frantically to save her. Jackson required immediate surgery. Tanner was uninjured.

Both Furtell and baby Case died when the roof of the 7-11 collapsed. Karrina and Sydnee Vargyas were ripped from their mother’s grasp by the twister, and their bodies were found a good distance away. Their older siblings survived at Briarwood Elementary School, Damon hiding in the bathroom, under a urinal, and Aria in the library, holding an encyclopedia over her head.

At the Plaza Tower Elementary School, Lewis arrived just ahead of the storm, and he and Zack are both fine, though their home was destroyed.

By the time Mackey got to the school it was too late to leave, and she and Logan crouched together as the tornado hit and everything went black. They, too, survived.

Snarled traffic out of Oklahoma City meant Hornsby did not make it to Plaza Tower, in time, and Ja’Nae was among the seven children who died there that day. Jia, picked up by her grandmother, survived.

Garcia was also too late. By the time she arrived, the school was leveled, and when she ran toward the rubble a stranger was holding Jazmin, who had just been pulled out, battered but alive. Garcia grabbed her daughter in her arms and ran across the leveled landscape. Captured by an Associated Press photographer, their anguish became one of the iconic images of the storm.

Was she surprised to see her mother there waiting as she surfaced?

No, she said. “I know she’s always there for me.”



May 2013 Central U.S. Tornadoes (GRAPHIC IMAGES)