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Oklahoma tornadoes: 'She would give when she didn't have things to give'

Gayla Mullins said her sister, Gina Stromski, always was among the first to volunteer after disasters, like the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City and the deadly May 3, 1999, tornado in Moore. Stromski died in Monday's tornado.
by Andrew Knittle and Nolan Clay Modified: May 24, 2013 at 11:34 pm •  Published: May 24, 2013

Sunday, as tornadoes danced across the state, a scared Gina Stromski sought safety in the closet of her house in Moore with her little dog, Wylie.

She waited out those storms, praying.

On Monday, she was back in the closet with the dog, talking on the phone with a brother-in-law as the powerful tornado closed in on her neighborhood.

“Maybe it will turn,” she said, just before she and the brother-in-law, John Mullins, lost contact.

On Friday, older sister Gayla Mullins said she is sure Stromski, 51, was praying again as the tornado hit.

Her family takes comfort that Wylie was by her side before she died. The dog was found alive but was too badly injured and had to be put to sleep.

Gayla Mullins said her sister always was among the first to volunteer after disasters, like the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City and the deadly May 3, 1999, tornado in Moore.

One of the few things salvaged from her wrecked home was a certificate from the Red Cross thanking her for her service after the Murrah Building bombing. Also found was a photo of her and others in hard hats. Stromski is hugging someone.

“She was so moved by tragedies to other people and ... injustices — things that just were not fair in life — just to a fault almost,” Gayla Mullins said. “She would give when she didn't have things to give and money to give. She just took everything to heart that way.”

“Gina was a very, very good-hearted person,” said former mother-in-law Wilma Stromski, who still spoke with her once a week.

Stromski was retired and was known for her fierce independence and smarts. Her house at 842 SW 14 had a whole room devoted to OU Sooner football.

A prized possession was a Sam Bradford autograph.

She couldn't flee in her car Monday because she had poor eyesight and couldn't see well when it was cloudy and raining.

‘I'm sure it just caught him off guard'

Also at home with his dog Monday was Randy DeWayne Smith, 39, a laid-off electrician.

His father, Terry Smith, 62, talked Friday of the desperate search to learn what had happened to his son in the hours and the next day after the tornado. He found out at a church.

“I'm sure it just caught him off guard. He usually sits and plays video games sometimes. He might have been wrapped up in that. But I know the sirens went off. I just don't know why he didn't take cover or anything,” the father said.

“I called him and called him and called him, and it just went into voice mail, so I knew his phone wasn't working. That's when I got really nervous.”

Randy Smith lived at 1404 Ginger Ave. in Moore. Terry Smith's youngest son, Brandon Smith, rode a bike to get to the location Monday night. “He called me and he said, ‘Dad, there's nothing here but a slab,'” Terry Smith said.

People cleaning up in the neighborhood have seen Randy Smith's dog, Oreo, running around. “But they can't catch the dog,” Terry Smith said.

Randy Smith has a son, Dylan, 19, who lives with his mother. Their home was destroyed, too.

“We're trying to get the dog … so Dylan can have the dog,” Terry Smith said.

Dylan graduates Saturday from Southmoore High School. His father was looking forward to it.

‘Just kind and treated me well'

Sunday evening, Glen Irish, 79, was killed when a tornado tore through Steelman Estates trailer park, just west of Shawnee.

The storm that killed Irish left most of the 80 or so trailers in the park badly damaged or completely so. Mangled cars and trucks were tossed about like children's toys in a sandbox. A day after the twister, a SpongeBob SquarePants blanket hung from a tree, blowing in the wind.

Neighbors found his body when they emerged from a community storm shelter. He'd been thrown about 40 or 50 yards from his home, which was missing from the lot he owned in Steelman Estates.

Pat “Millie” Mitchell, a longtime resident of Steelman Estates, said her grandson was one of the first to find Irish, a grandfather and veteran of the Korean War. He was in her yard.

“My grandson covered him up with a sheet ... It was obvious he was dead,” Mitchell said.

Those who knew Irish described him as a loving family man who was kind and patient. He enjoyed fishing the area's many lakes and ponds.

Irish's longtime girlfriend, Karen Twellman, said she will miss his easygoing way. They were a bit of an odd couple.

Twellman is 56, more than 20 years younger than her longtime boyfriend. They were a couple for 29 years.

The difference in age — and the fact the two lived 50 miles apart — didn't affect the relationship, said Twellman, who lives in Mustang.

“I was married to a man who was my own age who didn't treat me well, and it wasn't good,” she said. “We were both divorced, and I met him at work, so I knew where he was coming from.

“He was just kind and treated me well ... that is definitely what drew me to him in the beginning.

Contributing: Staff Writer Hannah Covington

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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