On May 22, 2011, my wife and I attended our daughter, Jeane’s, graduation from high-school. This was an event that we had hoped for, but feared wouldn’t happen. Jeane has Autism Spectrum Disorder, but is high functioning. She is also the first child ( to our knowledge ) in the Missouri school system to be able to bring an Autism Service Dog, Athena, to a public school. Needless to say, I was very proud when both Jeane and Athena crossed the stage wearing matching graduation hats.
On our way home, we decided to stop at McDonald’s for a bite to eat, at which time we heard the tornado sirens start. The employee at McDonald’s offered to let us go inside the building, but as most of it was made of glass we attempted to drive home. You see, we have tornado sirens which are set off several times a year with no tornado in sight. So hearing it again, unfortunately, was not an alarm which indicated you have mere seconds to react.
Sunday was not the case, however. We were 30 blocks from home and were heading West on 20th St. in Joplin, MO. As we drove past Connecticut St., we were met with a black wall of nothing and hail so large that I’m surprised our windshield did not break. I immediately did a u-turn and took refuge under a bank drive-through awning at a bank located at 20th and Connecticut St. This allowed us to get out from the hail, but we did not expect what happened next.
The wind, which had been blustery and multi-directional immediately blew horizontally, carrying with it everything it touched. It appeared to be a debris field that defied gravity, traveling sideways with no appearance of falling at all. That was when my wife, my daughter, and I realized we were in the middle of the tornado. The windows of our car broke out and debris entered our car. At that time, we put our heads down and started to pray very, very loudly. Athena, we thought, had been sucked out of the car, but we later found that she had thrown her body over my daughter to protect her.
We tried to keep our eyes closed, but were unable to keep from seeing horrendous sites, such as a lady’s body hitting our car.
The event seemed to have lasted many minutes, but in all actuality, the tornado itself probably lasted about 30-60 seconds. We continued to stay in the car for a few minutes after to avoid direct hail injuries, but eventually an anonymous teenager helped pry my daughter’s and wife’s doors open, while I crawled through my window.
At that point, I sent my wife, who had a protruding bone in her arm, daughter, and dog, to the hospital in a stranger’s pickup truck. We later found out the hospital had also been destroyed by the tornado.
I stayed and started digging screaming people out of their homes.
The rest of our personal story you can read in the online copy of the Wall Street Journal.
Thanks to all the employees at Ford who made such a great vehicle, that when all other vehicles had been blown away and destroyed, ours stayed strong and kept us alive.