Plaza Towers teacher names newborn after student killed in May 20 tornado

Jennifer Doan, captured in iconic photograph, gives birth to a boy.
by Juliana Keeping Modified: January 5, 2014 at 10:00 am •  Published: January 5, 2014

A mother's guilt

When Doan thinks of Nicolas McCabe, she thinks of his smile.

“He would get in trouble over some little thing and just flash me his big smile to get out of it,” she said. “He just had one of those smiles.”

As Doan talks, she seems more subdued than one might expect from a new mother.

“It's definitely been hard for me to find my smile,” she said. “It's been harder since.”

Still, for Doan, her baby gives her hope and a reason to go on. Already, she thinks, they've been through so much together. But he's also a reminder off all that's happened.

“Just looking at him, it reminds me of that day, and the ones that I did lose.”

Doan said the death of her students broke her heart, and she's not sure if those scars will ever heal. She struggles with guilt. She lived, her students died and she wasn't able to save them.

Again and again, she's been told that their deaths are not her fault.

“I can't help but to feel that way,” she said.

Stacey McCabe, Nicolas' mother, said Doan has nothing to feel guilty about.

“She was doing what she was supposed to be doing, right along with the rest of those teachers,” McCabe said.

McCabe said she is touched that Doan's baby shares a name with her only son, a boy who loved going to the lake, playing with Legos and listening to country music.

“It's very meaningful because she was with my son when he died,” McCabe said.

Hoping for healing

Doan said she wants to return to teach at Plaza Towers when her doctors say she is ready.

The “Tornado Alley” school had no storm shelter. The new school, being built on the same spot, will.

“There's a lot of me in Plaza Towers,” Doan said. “I know it's going to be difficult. I'm hoping it will bring some peace and some healing.”

In October, Doan married her fiance, Nyle Rogers, in a no-frills ceremony and recently changed her last name to his.

Doan thought about choosing the name Nicolas for her son's middle name for some time before she told her husband. She worried he would think the name would make her sad. Instead, he was moved.

Doan also worried that parents of the other children who died that day might think she was honoring one student above the rest. That wasn't what it was about, though.

“They were all my students. They were all mine,” she said. “He's just been the hardest for me because he was right there.”

by Juliana Keeping
Enterprise Reporter
Juliana Keeping is on the enterprise reporting team for The Oklahoman and NewsOK.com. Keeping joined the staff of The Oklahoman in 2012. Prior to that time, she worked in the Chicago media at the SouthtownStar, winning a Peter Lisagor Award...
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