Search AOL Mail
AOL Mail
AOL Favorites

Fears linger for students who faced deadly tornado


MOORE, Okla. (AP) - Ten-year-old Kai Heuangpraseuth will return to a new Plaza Towers Elementary in the fall, built on the same spot where seven of the boy's schoolmates died last year after a top-scale tornado reduced it to a pile of rubble.

Christopher Legg will not be there, but his mother says perhaps her son's death will hurt a little less if last May's tragedy in Moore helps lead to safer schools.

One year after the deadly tornado carved a 17-mile path through the heart of this Oklahoma City suburb and killed 24 people, deep scars remain - especially for families who lost loved ones and children traumatized after riding out the fearsome storm inside two elementary schools.

Neither Plaza Towers nor nearby Briarwood Elementary had an underground shelter or tornado safe room, so when the tornado bore down, with winds speed exceeding 200 mph, the students huddled into hallways or crammed into bathrooms or closets. Most of the child victims died after a massive wall collapsed and suffocated them.

Kai, who was plucked from the school's rubble by a police officer in a moment captured by an Associated Press photographer, is excited about the new school, but still troubled by bad weather and certain loud sounds.

"He's still got his triggers," said Kai's mother, Jacalyn Russell, who plans to move back into the Plaza Towers district this summer. "It's not really the rain. He likes the rain. It's more the wind, and sounds that sound similar ... like the trains."

Even the slightest turn in the weather can cause anxiety and fear for the surviving Plaza Towers students, who have been attending classes at a refurbished junior high since the storm, Principal Amy Simpson said.

"We try not to say 'tornado' around here," said Simpson, who rode out the storm with five other staffers in a small bathroom. "Just the word scares them."

Even the continuous outpouring of cards, gifts and well wishes from students across the country brings fresh reminders.

"The hardest part about that is that the kids are reminded each time someone gives something to us that their friends are gone," she said.

Nine-year-old Haley Delgado carried a pair of headphones around with her for months to block out the sound of the wind, which reminds her of the EF-5 tornado, mom Athena Delgado said.

"We still have them, but she doesn't still use them," said Delgado, whose 10-year-old son Xavier Delgado also was in the school that day.

Xavier gets apprehensive when Oklahoma's unpredictable weather takes a turn for the worse, Delgado said, but mostly he thinks about the friends he lost.

"Those were his classmates who died," Delgado said. "He still misses his friends."

For some Moore families, the chance to watch their child return to school ended on May 20.

Danni Legg, mother of 9-year-old Christopher, says it has been "bittersweet" to watch the community recover from the storm. The neighborhood surrounding Plaza Towers was one of the hardest hit, with homes flattened to the foundation and reduced to piles of splintered debris that stretched for miles. Today, brand-new homes pop up on lots that have long since been cleared, many by the thousands of volunteers who arrived to help.

Legg has found some comfort by pouring herself into advocating for more storm shelters in schools and launching a political campaign for the state House.

"If more shelters can come out of this, it will be worth it for Chris," Legg said. "Yes, seven children's lives were lost, but if half a million Oklahoma students and staff can be protected, it will make this hurt a little less."

A safe-room shelter is being constructed into the new Plaza Towers Elementary School, where Kai reunited recently with Moore Police Officer Travis Muehlenweg, a four-year veteran who helped pull the third-grader from under the collapsed wall.

"Thanks," Kai told the officer and then moved in for a hug. They walked across a field to get a closer look at the new school. "It looks huge," the boy said.

"Maybe I'll see you there," the officer responded. "I'll come over."

Join the discussion

1000|Characters 1000  Characters
Michele May 20 2014 at 4:09 AM

I can understand. My daughter, though in her teens at the time, experienced her first hurricane when we moved to Florida. Its very unsettling if you have never been through one. It took awhile for her to be able to move on from it, but she finally did. I believe Hurricane Charley affected many at that time, many adults I spoke to were like my daughter afterwards. Its why its pisses me off to read comments from people who say don't live so close to the water, don't live there, don't live here, etc. Just mind boggling to read comments from those that THINK they know better, when in reality, it really doesn't matter WHERE you live. Mother Nature could have a change of heart and strike ANyWHERE at anytime. Think about that.

Flag Reply +13 rate up
3 replies
Debbie May 20 2014 at 7:32 AM

I don't understand why the school didn't have a shelter....my school is 1968 in Texas built a new school that half of it was underground....they knew they were in thornado alley and did something about it. Don't tell me that school was older than 1968....
May God watch over all those children as they go back to school and for the families that lost the kids...

Flag Reply +9 rate up
2 replies
Scooby Debbie May 20 2014 at 11:14 AM

yep. If you live in a place called Tornado Alley then you should make sure you are prepared to withstand the tornadoes that come down that alley on a yearly basis.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
Jennifer Debbie May 20 2014 at 11:21 AM

Its unfortunate that we have a terrible Governor for what ever reason unknown to me manages to stay in office. I am sure that if it were her children in that school she would have demanded that schools have them. The OK budget can work shelters into schools if we can afford to pay for her misuse of the taxpayers funds.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
1 reply
Hello Alhechtner Jennifer May 21 2014 at 2:01 AM

Which school would you start with? And where would the money come from to retrofit every Oklahoma school with a shelter? I am not defending the Governor - just wonder how you expect her to fix a problem that she did not create?

Flag 0 rate up
Scooby May 20 2014 at 11:13 AM

I feel so sorry for any child that would have to witness the death of any other. I can't imagine loosing several classmates all at once. Of course it is difficult to get over. These poor kids show strength every day. I pray that it will get better for them all. I hope they can move on with time and live somewhat normal lives. Want to see bravery? These kids have it.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
1 reply
golffrdlrs Scooby May 20 2014 at 11:32 PM

While you are at it please pray for god to prevent these things from happening to innocent children in the first place. Shouldn't be much to ask of omnipotence.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
kimcrdr May 20 2014 at 11:42 AM

I am an adult and am scared to death of tornados, I feel horrible for all these children that went through this, glad they are starting to recover, although a difficult journey I'm sure, I do think that all schools should have a shelter in place, after all there will be more tornados to come in the future!

Flag Reply +4 rate up
Buckingham's May 20 2014 at 11:22 AM

God bless all those poor children who have been traumatized by this wild weather.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
1 reply
golffrdlrs Buckingham's May 20 2014 at 11:43 PM

I think if god cared he wouldn't have let them get traumatized.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
baileysno1lala May 20 2014 at 12:26 PM

Those poor people! I can't imagine what they went through. I hope they continue to heal and find some peace.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
I Tell it like it is May 20 2014 at 8:26 AM

Get rid of that satanic monument and things will get better. You'll see....

Flag Reply +2 rate up
2 replies
Scooby I Tell it like it is May 20 2014 at 11:09 AM

You must be a fan of the westboro church that tucked tail and ran when faced with the people that suffered the wrath of these tornadoes. I'm sure that is what it is,... or it could be that they live in a place that is overrun by tornadoes on a yearly basis... idiot.

Flag Reply +8 rate up
golffrdlrs I Tell it like it is May 20 2014 at 11:40 PM

You left out sacrifice a goat and stop eating some kind of meat and stop having sex some kind of way and no more gays. I'm sure I left a few things out but certainly your angry, punishing god has more than just the monument on his list.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
endmillll May 20 2014 at 9:12 AM

Hell just being married put a mental toll on me.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
msslongrider May 20 2014 at 2:11 PM

Old School,My parents would of said Suck it up and move on!Now days alls thats left is sheep looking for a free ride!

Flag Reply 0 rate up
vpqueen May 20 2014 at 1:43 PM

When I was a kid, I participated in the egging of a house on Halloween. When my dad found out, he took me to the garage. True terror was watching him look for something else to hit me with after he'd broken a ping pong paddle across my backside. Two things. I never did it again, and I got over it.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
1 reply
golffrdlrs vpqueen May 20 2014 at 11:27 PM

Seriously? You are comparing the terror of being hit in the butt with a ping pong paddle to having an ef-5 tornado destroy a building you are in and knock a wall over on top of you?

Flag Reply +3 rate up
aol~~ 1209600



World Series

More From Our Partners