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'I just don't know how to feel. It's just something I had to do'

Going house to house Monday searching the rubble for tornado survivors, Michael Bond found postal worker Rick Jones — already dead.
by Andrew Knittle and Nolan Clay Published: May 24, 2013

Going house to house Monday searching the rubble for tornado survivors, Michael Bond found postal worker Rick Jones — already dead.

So, for the next four hours, the Federal Aviation Administration worker helped the stranger the only way he could.

Bond stayed there — to fulfill a promise to the victim's sister.

“I gave her my word that I wasn't going to leave him until they officially came over and they picked up his body,” he said Thursday.

“I just don't know how to feel. I just don't know how to feel. It's just something I had to do,” he explained between sobs.

Bond is new to the danger of Oklahoma storms. He is working temporarily in Oklahoma though he may move here. But he lived in New York during the terrorist attack there a dozen years ago.

Watching the devastation around the Warren Theatre on TV, he knew he had to help.

“There was nothing there. I shop and I do my … routines of everyday life in that area. I just couldn't sit back and just watch. Being from New York City and going through 9/11, I just felt like I had to do something. It's just a part of me, I guess.”

He got in his car and took back streets from Norman to get close.

“I ran through a … flat area and got right into the neighborhood. House is on fire. You smell gas. I've never witnessed anything like that but … there was no feeling. There was no emotion. It was just like: Who could I help?

“I just joined a band of people. … And we were just pulling out animals, and just whatever we could do. We went from house to house.”

Jones, 54, worked evenings processing mail in Oklahoma City and lived alone in Moore.

He was found curled up, the frame of the blown apart house on top of him, a Bible at his knees.

His sister, Lisa Buffalo, 52, had been trying to reach him. She knew that the hard-hit Plaza Towers Elementary School was near his house at 834 SW 14.

Bond called Jones' mother in Tulsa after finding her phone number in a book and told her about her son but got disconnected. Buffalo called him back.

“I begged him to stay with my brother until he could be picked up,” she said.

She headed from Tulsa to Moore but couldn't get into the suburb. “This man kept calling me and telling me everything that was going on and promised me he wouldn't leave Rick. … He's just the greatest guy and I love him and I don't even know him,” she said.

While he waited, Bond, 31, said he tried to gather up Jones' belongings for the family. He said he came to feel like he knew Jones.

“For all I know, this man could have had different politics and beliefs than me,” Bond said. “He's not even like me for who I am or my skin color. But at the end of the day, we're human beings. I just couldn't sit back.”

While Long died alone, others Monday died next to their closest loved ones.

‘He was my best friend'

One victim, Hemant Bhonde, 65, had been married nearly four decades to his wife, Jerrie Bhonde.

“He'll find me again, after this life,” Jerrie Bhonde said Thursday, her body and face covered in cuts, scrapes and vividly colored bruises. “He always told me that.”

From a hospital bed at Integris Southwest Medical Center, Jerrie Bhonde recounted the couple's final, terrifying moments together.

She expressed no sorrow as she talked about the moment her husband escaped her grasp and literally disappeared into the sky above their modest home in Moore.

They had huddled in a bathroom, with only blankets to shield them.

“I don't grieve over my husband because he was a loving man,” she said. “He did the best he could on Earth. He always told me, ‘When I go, don't grieve. You know we've accomplished everything we're going to accomplish in life.'”

Her husband, a retired GM worker who moved to the United States from India decades ago, had fallen ill in recent years. A severe case of osteoporosis left him in need of home care, which Jerrie Bhonde gladly provided.

“I never minded ... I wanted to do more for him,” she said. “He was just a guy I loved. He was my best friend.”

The couple lived across the street from Plaza Towers Elementary School, where seven children were crushed to death.

“My husband, being ill, he loved to sit by the window and watch the children play at the school,” she said.

“We knew a lot of the kids and they would come by our house. It's where my daughter went to school.”

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by Andrew Knittle
Investigative Reporter
Andrew Knittle has covered state water issues, tribal concerns and major criminal proceedings during his career as an Oklahoma journalist. He has won reporting awards from the state's Associated Press bureau and prides himself on finding a real...
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by Nolan Clay
Sr. Reporter
Nolan Clay was born in Oklahoma and has worked as a reporter for The Oklahoman since 1985. He covered the Oklahoma City bombing trials and witnessed bomber Tim McVeigh's execution. His investigative reports have brought down public officials,...
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