Posted on June 6, 2014

The Tornado

I know that it’s been awhile since I’ve put up a new post.
This post has been in my drafts for over a month now and I haven’t been able to make it through finishing it until now. Too many tears of sorrow and gratefulness and heart clutching moments would overwhelm me and I wasn’t able to get through writing the post.
I’m ready now.I’m sure you’ve heard of the tornado that swept through central Arkansas, the area where I’m from, on April 27th. Sadly, two of my friends and their families, and one ward church family, all lost their homes. Even more heartbreaking, is that the ward church family, the Wassom’s, lost their hubby/daddy in it. He was shielding his 5 year old daughter during the tornado and lost his life protecting her.
A true hero.
A true testament of a Father’s love.I remember that evening vividly.
My Mom and I were on her bed watching the weatherman’s report on the tornado. We had put our purses/wallets and other vital things we would need into the bathroom we would go to incase we needed to take shelter. Our animals were all uneasy and our older black lab, Carter, was panting and shaking in the corner of the room with his head burrowed into a spot between a piece of furniture and the wall–he always did this when it was storming.

The weatherman was reporting that the tornado was moving swiftly from Little Rock and tearing through Mayflower. It was heading straight for Conway, where we live, but suddenly turned and started heading for Vilonia–which is RIGHT next to Conway.

They started showing pictures of the destruction in Mayflower that viewers were sending in.
It was complete devastation.
My Mom and I were worried for all of our friends that live in the Vilonia area.

I think it was at that moment that I knew.
Knew the Kingrey’s where hit.
Knew they were hurt.

I texted Leslie Kingrey, “y’all okay???”
I texted Bryn Briscoe and asked the same thing.


The news started saying that the Parkwood Meadows neighborhood was hit and it was bad.
Really bad.
Total devastation.
I am nauseated.

My Mom and I mute the TV so that we can pray.
I pray for the Kingrey’s.
I know they are hurt.
I just know it.
I pray for them to get cared for quickly.
For them to be okay.
I pray for all the other people and families hurt.
I pray so hard.
For all those affected.
For the first responders.
I pray.
That’s all I can do.

My Mom and I are sobbing by the end of the prayer.

I post on Facebook and ask all of my friends to pray for the Briscoe’s and Kingrey’s. I wrote that I know their neighborhood was hit and I hadn’t heard back from them.

I didn’t find out that the Wassom family lived in the same subdivision until later on in the evening. I wasn’t that close with them but I saw them at church every Sunday. But, I’m very good friends with Dan Wassom’s sister, Katie.

I soon see that Brett Kingrey’s sister has posted on Facebook about them. She said she was texting with Leslie while they were taking shelter in the closet. The last text from Leslie was,
“It’s here”
and then nothing.
No more communication.
Brett had let his sister know that Leslie, the kids and Leslie’s Dad were “okay”
He was out of town and got a call from Leslie right after it hit (She was able to use a neighbor’s cell phone to call him), letting him know they were “okay” but the neighborhood was completely gone.
Leslie is among the strongest women I know, and so her using the term “okay” is just a testament to her strength.

Below is Leslie’s account (via):

“We had gotten several tornado warnings. Sirens were going off well in advance,” recalled Kingrey in a telephone interview.
She said initially, for some reason, she didn’t think it would be too serious, but did seek safety in a closet with her 1-year-old daughter, EllaGrace, 5-year-old son, Austin, and her father, Louie Irving, to ride out the warning. Irving, of West Monroe, La., had undergone heart surgery five weeks earlier, and while he recovered was staying with Kingrey and her husband, Brett, a facilities planner for the North Central Arkansas Cooperative when they lived in Mountain Home.
Kingrey said her husband was visiting a friend in Mountain Home at the time of Sunday’s storm.


‘Huge, black tornado’

As they waited in the closet with a crib mattress for protection, Kingrey said she became more frightened and stepped out to see if they might have time to get to a shelter.
“I saw how black it was, and I saw the tornado,” said Kingrey. She said the “huge, black tornado” was bearing down on her house. She got back into the closet.
“We started to feel the pressure in our ears, and our ears started popping,” she recalled.
They could hear debris flying about, she said, and suddenly the closet door flew open.
Kingrey said her father was sucked out of the closet, then the tornado yanked her son out as well. As Kingrey clung to her infant daughter, the wind drug them across what was left of the floor, across scattered tile and the concrete foundation. “The house was demolished,” she said.
“God gave me a piece of carpet to hide under,” she said, explaining that she and the baby hit the carpet and wrapped up in it for what protection it offered.
“I just knew I was going to die,” said Kingrey, her voice quivering as she remembered the moment. “Then, it was over, and it was just rain.”
Kingrey and her daughter crawled out from the carpet and stood up. “My home was destroyed, completely flattened,” she said.
So were her neighbors’ homes. Nothing was left, Kingrey told The Bulletin; everything was gone. Of 54 houses in the neighborhood, only six remained, she said.
Standing in the rain, she watched the tornado continue across a nearby ridge.
“I screamed for my son,” said Kingrey, adding that she couldn’t see her father anywhere. Austin stood up on the other side of the wreckage, “and he was crying and hollering for me,” she said.
Kingrey ran across the foundation to her son, who asked her not to hug him because he hurt so badly. “He was bruised and battered and scraped and cut,” she said.
Finding her son, Kingrey also found her father, who she said was lying on the concrete slab at their feet. His eyes were closed, and Kingrey said for a moment she thought he was dead. But, Irving opened his eyes.
“I can’t believe we were still alive,” said Kingrey.


‘Dan is gone’

Then, Kingrey saw a neighbor and her two young daughters in the rubble of their house. With EllaGrace still in her arms, Kingrey ran through the rain to them. When she reached her neighbor, Suzanne Wassom, the woman told her, “Dan is gone.”
Kingrey said she tried to reassure that they would find him, they could look for him. But, Wassom told her no, her husband was dead.
Daniel Wassom, 31, was one of the 15 fatalities in Arkansas from the tornado’s wrath. According to Kingrey, when the tornado struck, Wassom huddled over his wife and daughters inside their house to protect them. An Associated Press report said he took the brunt of the force from a flying 2×4 to his neck. Wassom’s wife and one daughter sustained injuries from the large piece of lumber, but survived.
“They’re alive because of him,” said a tearful Kingrey.
Another resident of the neighborhood, who still had a couple of rooms standing, called them over to take shelter. Kingrey said they went, and she saw someone with a cellphone. She asked to call her husband and let him know they were all right. She said she’d been talking with a friend on her cellphone when the storm hit, but had no idea where her phone was.
As they waited for help, someone told them emergency personnel had been dispatched, but they’d have to meet them at the end of their road. The survivors walked to the end of what once was their neighborhood where first responders, ambulances and others were waiting. Kingrey said the friends from Cabot she’d been talking with earlier were there. She said they went for medical treatment.
Austin took quite a beating from the twister, according to his mom. Kingrey said he sustained a laceration on his liver, had to have stitches in an ear and staples on his head and in his back. She said there “wasn’t a square inch” on her son’s back that wasn’t scratched and bruised.
Kingrey said her father had held an arm up to shield his face from flying bricks, and they pounded his arm severely. She said he had to have a plate put in his arm and now is at a friend’s house recovering. Kingrey said she had injuries on her back and felt as if she’d been “whipped” by the storm.
EllaGrace was unscathed.


One more survivor

On Tuesday, from her friends’ home in Cabot, Kingrey said the tornado had been about three-quarters of a mile wide when it crashed through their house, which she and her husband had bought last July…
Kingrey said they went to see what was left of the house on Monday, and they found one more survivor in the rubble — their family dog. Kingrey said the pet was an outside dog that normally stayed on the back porch. The tornado hit a front corner of the house and apparently left the dog buried underneath the wreckage, but unhurt.
“He was just fine,” she said. “He’s here now, and he’s being spoiled.”
As they poked through the debris that once was a house, she said, they found her husband’s journals from a church mission, scrapbooks and a few other items. “The most important stuff, the memories, have been recovered,” said Kingrey.
“We have been truly blessed,” she said, noting that many friends are helping them; six or seven organizations have provided assistance that includes clothes, food and even money.

“I never would have imagined we have so many friends,” Kingrey said. “I am so humbled.”


Thankfully, the Briscoe’s were at a friend’s house in Conway when it hit. But they, too, lost their home.

I remember just being in shock when I was standing on the foundation of the Kingrey’s home a couple days after the tornado hit.
The foundation was all that was left.

I remember standing in Gracie’s room–the exact spot where I stood the night before the tornado hit and changed little Gracie’s diaper and got her ready for bed and tucked her in and sang her a song before I turned out the light.
She just giggled and smiled up at me.
Such a beautiful little baby girl.

The top middle corner, where most of the brick are, is where the Kingrey family took shelter when the tornado hit.
This is imbedded in the ground about 3 feet–it shows just how powerful the winds were.
Leslie’s beautiful drawing of Christ survived.
ALL of the food storage at the Kingrey Home was in near perfect condition…this is just some of it. 🙂


The Parkwood Meadows neighborhood Before and After.
The Kingrey Home.
The Wassom Home.
The Briscoe Home.

Above is an adorable photo I took of the Kingrey’s little ones a few days after the tornado hit.
I posted it on Facebook with this caption:
“So glad these beautiful babies survived the tornado that tore apart their home to the very foundation it stood on. Just as the foundation remains from their home being torn asunder, so does the very foundation of their testimony remain in their beautiful souls. That will never be taken away from them. Our Heavenly Father is so miraculous. I’m so humbled by the many miracles I am witnessing HOURLY. SO THANKFUL to know the beautiful Kingrey and Briscoe families and to see the church family come together for the Wassom family.”

And I truly am so grateful the Kingrey family are still with us.
So grateful the Briscoe’s weren’t home when it hit and are all fine.
So grateful for the beautiful legacy that Dan Wassom Jr leaves behind.
For his beautiful little girls and wife that are still with us today and will carry on that legacy.

There is so much beauty in the world.
Though there are times of sorrow and grief and utter calamity–I promise, oh I promise, there is still beauty to be found.

Just open your heart and your eyes.

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  • Reply 661045be-ede4-11e3-82b5-83f473a2bb25 June 7, 2014 at 1:38 am

    This story was very well done. The hole in my heart from losing my son Dan Wassom II will never heal. He was truly a unique young man, son, husband, father and friend

    • Reply June 7, 2014 at 6:30 am

      Sister Wassom–I thank you for sharing your son's life with all of us!

      I was reading a book today and was touched by this part where the person was writing about how they felt that passed loved ones were still with them, "It was as if they were right there in the room with me as I wrote. And in a way they were. In a way they have never left me. And that's just it, isn't it? That's how we manage to survive loss. Because love, it never dies, it never goes away, it never fades, so long as you hang onto it.

      Love can make you immortal."

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