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Oklahoma tornadoes: Plaza Towers Elementary School teacher shoved students into bathroom as wall collapsed

BY SILAS ALLEN and SARAH HUSSAIN Modified: May 25, 2013 at 1:06 am •  Published: May 24, 2013

— As Monday's tornado bore down on Plaza Towers Elementary School, first-grade teacher Becky Evans herded her students into a hallway and told them to crouch down in front of a wall in and cover their heads and necks.

The school didn't have a safe room, so safety procedures required teachers to take students into the hallway during a tornado, she said.

By the time the storm arrived, only nine of the 22 students in Evans' class still were at school. The other students' parents had pulled them out of school early out of concern over the weather, she said.

As the tornado approached, Evans saw one of the school's skylights begin to shatter and fall into the hallway.

Moments later, as the wall where her students were crouched began to disappear, Evans pulled her students away and shoved them into a nearby bathroom. Then, she climbed on top of them, shielding them with her body, and told them to hang on.

“I just got in on top of them,” she said. “I just held onto them.”

Evans spoke with reporters at a news conference Friday at Wayland Bonds Elementary School in Moore. Evans and all nine of her students survived the tornado. Seven Plaza Towers students died in the tornado.

During the news conference, Plaza Towers Principal Amy Simpson said the actions of the school's teachers saved students' lives. Teachers like Evans “were able to act quickly, stay calm and take, literally, the weight of a wall onto their bodies to save those that were under them,” she said.

“The teachers covered themselves in debris while they were covering their babies,” Simpson said.

The deaths of the seven students were devastating for their families and for the school, Simpson said, fighting back tears. The students at the school live in the neighborhood around Plaza Towers, and Simpson said she knows the students' families well.

“When you sit still, that's when it gets you the most,” she said.

Amy Raney, a counselor at Briarwood Elementary School, was making her way back to the school from Norman about 2 p.m., when parents were beginning to check their children out of the school. She asked them to come inside and take shelter.

Raney was on the west side of the school when she saw the tornado coming toward the school.

“It didn't look like the monstrosity that came to our school,” she said.

Several of the teachers' children attend Briarwood and asked Raney to bring their children to them. She took one of her sons, a fifth-grader, out of his classroom, as well. They got into a storage closet with other teachers and students. She grabbed them and told them the tornado was coming.

“I started crying, my 10-year-old son was under me and he said, ‘Mom, it's going to be OK,'” she said. “I snapped and said, ‘I'm the counselor here, I've got to calm down, my job is to calm people down.' So I just started praying.”

After the tornado passed, they began removing children and getting them into parking lots and playgrounds.

“My son's first-grade teacher told me the first thing she saw when she came out was my older son holding my middle son's hand and telling him, ‘Don't you get it, God is amazing because we are alive,'” she said. “It was just awesome knowing that he was comforting his little brother, and it's amazing knowing his faith in God was not shattered after something like this could happen.”


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