“It was amazing to me that people I'd never seen before started showing,” Hixson said.
The tornado had been gone maybe five minutes, and already the emotions had swung from hopeless to hopeful.
Wilhelm kept digging. His rubble pile had dropped from maybe four feet high to 18 inches. He found a teacher with four students.
“Get me out, get me out,” she cried. “I've got kids.”
Those children got out. Wilhelm, Hixson and their new best friends kept digging “for what seemed like forever,” Wilhelm said.
The details run together. More digging, more teachers protecting kids, more pained but brave faces, more freedom.
Briarwood was coming back to life. And finally, there were no more trapped from that section of the destruction.
Jeff Wilhelm realized two things. He hadn't found Lauryn, and he couldn't feel his arms.
Wilhelm yelled for his daughter. He hadn't done that since he was alone in the horror.
Kids were coming out of the library. Wilhelm tried to move but says he couldn't even bend over. He suddenly realized he was powerless to help anymore.
But Lauryn got her daddy's height. She's a tall third-grader and spotted her dad first.
“Daddy!” she screamed.
Lauryn ran to Wilhelm. That feeling from a few minutes earlier, when Wilhelm turned the corner at Vicki Drive and 149th, was gone.
And Wilhelm's arms worked again. He managed a hug for his daughter.
Wilhelm's stepmother, Ava Wilhelm, teaches at Briarwood. They united with her, all her students were safe, and then they found Lauryn's friends from the neighborhood.
Turns out all the Briarwood kids were safe. “At that time, I couldn't think of anything else,” Wilhelm said.
Wilhelm didn't seek medical attention Monday. Too many people need it more, he told his wife. But after a sleepless Monday night, Wilhelm relented.
The doctor at St. Anthony South told him what you never want to hear — “Hey, you want to come see something?” — and soon enough, both arms were in a sling.
It's too soon to know if the elbows will require surgery. Wilhelm doesn't know how they were broken.
Wilhelm just knows that he can live with Trent calling him C3PO for his robotic movements and his wife texting photos of her brushing his teeth.
Wilhelm knows that two broken arms are a far better feeling than the emptiness that swamped him Monday upon reaching Vicki Drive and SW 149.
He still can't get that scene out of his mind. But he's sleeping better, no longer lying down accompanied by those sounds of wood scraping and gas spewing and teachers crying, “help me.”
Better memories are crowding them out. Heads popping out and kids scrambling down and rubble, tossed aside by arms that didn't know they were broken.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.
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