Saturday, July 30, 2011

Coming soon: 5:41- Stories from the Joplin Tornado

Everybody who was in Joplin at 5:41 p.m. Sunday, May 22, 2011, has a story about the tornado that ripped through our town. It would be impossible to find a way to include all of them in one volume, so Carthage Press Editor John Hacker and I have collected a representative sample, which will be published in September with the title 5:41 and the subtitle #Stories from the Joplin Tornado."

The photo accompanying this post, is the one that will be used for the book's cover.

The following is the introduction to the book. Some of the stories that will be included are listed after the introduction:

Tragedy brings people together.

I saw evidence of that right in front of me as I walked along the checkout lines a the 7th Street Wal-Mart in Joplin looking for one of those blue hand baskets so I didn’t have to push an unwieldy cart around the store.

I saw two of my former students, a brother and sister, sitting on a bench, apparently waiting for other family members to finish shopping. The older one had just finished her first year in college. When she was in my eighth grade English class, she was a gifted writer with a way of translating her feelings and fears into poetry. From Facebook conversations with the girl’s younger sister, another former student of mine, I knew that her family had been hit particularly hard by the May 22 tornado that hit this city.

The girl had her arm around her younger brother in a manner that could only be described as protective.

She spotted me approaching and shouted, “Mr. Turner!” drawing the attention of those in the checkout lanes directly behind us.

For the next 20 minutes, I heard a harrowing story of how her family had been right in the middle of the most destructive tornado to ever hit our city. She was home alone at 5:41 p.m. She was the only member of her family who did not get hit by the tornado.

The family was rushing home to be with her when torrential rain began, accompanied by hail. Her father pulled over and they ran into the AT&T building, which proved to be no protection when the tornado hit.

Her mother and her sister were badly injured and had to be taken by helicopter to a Springfield hospital. Thankfully, both survived, though they have a long road ahead of them.

After our conversation ended, I finally found a hand basket and began shopping. As I walked through the aisles, I saw more people who were stopped and talking than I had ever seen in a Wal-Mart store before.

I caught bits and pieces of the various conversations. Not one of them did not include at least some mention of the tornado. For the first few weeks after May 22, the tornado was the only topic of conversation here.

I changed the way I approached conversation and I am sure others did, too. When I ran into friends, acquaintances, and former students, after the initial greeting, I always asked if they had been hit by the tornado. The last thing I wanted to do was start up some silly chatter with people who may have lost someone or who had been displaced.

After I asked, nearly every time the question was greeted with a story. It also changed the way we talked about where we lived. When I was asked the tornado question, I always replied, “No, I was lucky. I was about three blocks from where the tornado hit.”

I quickly realized that I was not the only one to take that approach. I cannot count the number of people who told me how many blocks they were away from the tornado.

I wish everyone could have had that answer. Sadly, many of my conversations were with people who had lost their homes and all of their possessions. Some were staying with relatives. Some had been lucky enough to locate scarce rental property. Some feared they would never again live in the city limits of Joplin.

Every one of the people I talked to had a story about the Joplin Tornado. And every one of them will remember that time, 5:41, forever.

I heard the tornado stories while going about my everyday routine. For my co-author, John Hacker, it was part of his job. John, the editor of The Carthage Press, was in Joplin less than a half hour after the tornado. Though he has a well-earned reputation as one of the best reporters in Missouri, and is a skilled interviewer, he discovered what many reporters who have covered the aftermath of a tragedy have long found to be true- people want to talk.

As John walked through the heart of the devastation that evening, he heard many stories, some of which are included in this volume.

When we decided to write this book, it did not take long to come up with a title. As we wrote our stories and had others sent to us for inclusion in the book, for some reason I thought about the tag line in Naked City, a black-and-white television series from the early ‘60s, about police work in New York City. Each episode ended with the narrator saying, “There are eight million stories in the naked city- this was one of them.”

When the series ended after a four-year run, there were still more than seven million stories waiting to be told.

This collection of stories from the Joplin Tornado is far from comprehensive. If there were 50,000 people in the city May 22, there are 50,000 stories, all centering around what happened at 5:41. We hope the few dozen stories and photographs in this book will serve as a representative sampling of an evening Joplin will never forget.

Included in the book are the following:

-John Hacker's reporting from the scene just a few moments after the tornado

-Kelly Maddy's powerful "45 seconds" detailing his experience with the tornado.

-The story of a St. John's ER doctor

-John's profile of Joplin Fire Chief Mitch Randles

-Kristin Huke's account of the tornado at Freeman Hospital

-Death at the Full Gospel Church

-Code Black at Wal-Mart, with two stories

-My former Diamond Middle School student Gary Harrall talks about how the tornado leveled his home and made him decide it was time to move back to the country.

-Melissa Rainey Campbell tells a tale of survival entitled "I Know God Was With Me."

-Former Carthage Press and Joplin Daily reporter Kaylea Hutson tells the story of one of my favorite former students, JHS sophomore Laela Zaidi, who lost her home, as did all of the members of her extended family who live in Joplin.

-John writes about a Sarcoxie soldier who saved lives at Wal-Mart

-Rhonda Hatfield offers "A Survivor's Story."

-The Joplin hospitals weren't the only ones that dealt with tornado victims May 22. John writes about the activity at McCune-Brooks.

-My former colleague at East Middle School Andrea Thomas tells a harrowing story of riding out the tornado in a bathtub as their house was blown away around them.

-John offers an insightful story on how Missouri Southern State University was used during the aftermath of the tornado.

-Another former student of mine, Lacy Heiskell writes about "A Graduation Day I Will Never Forget."

-Iris Fountain says it all when she writes "In an instant, everything was gone."

-Shanti Navarre writes about "The Story That Affected Me for Life."

-I write about the glue that held the city of Joplin together during and after the tornado, the folks at KZRG and the Zimmer Group.

-My first story from the day after the tornado, "Death, Destruction, Hit Joplin

-Ninth grader Denton Williams, (another former student) writes "Lucky to Have a Home."

-Believe it or not, yet another one of my favorite former students, Shaney Delzell, writes about "The Day That Changed Everything."

-A Freeman maintenance worker offers a first hand account of the tornado and its aftermath.

-The young man who sadly became the face of the Joplin Tornado, but also one of its victims, 2011 JHS graduate Will Norton, is the focus of three stories, two written by me, and one by Rose Fogarty from St. Louis, who writes about Will Norton brought her St. Lou Crew to Joplin, where it has been doing a wonderful job helping with the recovery effort.

-I have some school-related tornado stories.

-John's interview with the folks at Samaritan's Purse, who not only offer their own stories, but also tell some heartwarming and heartbreaking stories told to them by others.

-Michael R. Sharp writes about "Hell's Half Hour."

-Tanya Sneddon writes about "Joplin Forever Changed."

-Even more stories.

-Color photos on the front and back covers and page after page of black-and-white photos, mostly taken by John Hacker, on the inside pages.

-The complete text of the speeches given by President Obama, Gov. Nixon, Aaron Brown and Randy Gariss at the Joplin Tornado Memorial Service, with photos.

-The final National Weather Service report on the tornado.

-Complete obituaries of those who died.

The book will be well over 200 pages.

I will be publishing more information about the book's availability soon.


Anonymous said...

hacker's time would be better spent putting out a decent newspaper...that's what he gets paid to do

judi said...

Randy, I would buy it and read it. If journalism is the first rough draft of history, this would be the second or third draft--and a very important one. I'll keep watching for information as you get closer to publication. (FTR, I'm a native Okie who got engaged in Joplin, and so I have a double interest. I have read and treasured the account that Oklahoma Today magazine amassed about the April 19 bombing in Oklahoma City. And I felt the same connection with Joplin when the tornado struck...we were watching that first raw Weather Channel coverage and I just couldn't believe it. Still can't. Judi L in St. Louis.

Anonymous said...

Randy - you're crawling into bed with Gatehouse, whom you have so little regard for...and the Carthage Press which hasn't done anything right since you were there...anything for another book I guess...even sell out your principles

Randy said...

I ask you to withhold judgment until you have seen the book. You will see that I have not sacrificed any of my integrity, nor am I in bed with GateHouse Media. I hired John Hacker when I was editor at The Carthage Press because I have a high respect for his reporting and photography. I was aware that he does some free-lance work and asked if he would be interested in working on this project with me.

Hacker said...

This has nothing to do with the newspaper. I don't work for the paper 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It only feels that way, but I do have a life away from Gatehouse Media.

Jeff Wells said...

There’s a story behind Hacker’s cover photo and I hope that I’m not revealing the contents of your book by sharing it.

Your readers know Hacker as a tremendous journalist. They also need to know that he is also a terrific person and friend. I worked with Hacker for almost three years in the middle of the last decade, but I knew him by reputation years earlier. He was a legend at The Chart. He graduated years before I arrived at MSSU, yet everyone still talked about him. Today, I’m proud to say that he is one of my closest friends.

My wife and I left Joplin two years ago, but we always try to see Hacker when we return. We visited with him at my mother’s house in Joplin the night before the tornado. Less than 24 hours later, we were hundreds of miles away as the storm approached Joplin. I was on the phone with Hacker as the tornado moved through the city and I asked him to go check on my mother. He was already on his way, putting himself in danger, even as the twister continued to wreck her neighborhood.

John went into the devastated area that night not as the editor of the Carthage Press, not as a journalist, but as a friend and a decent human being. Yes, he produced some great photos that evening. His best work that night will never be recognized. A neighbor pulled my mother from the ruins of her home before Hacker arrived. He persisted toward her house anyway and, along the way, assisted in the rescue of several people.

John is one of many Joplin-area journalists who did the right thing and put people before paper that night. He didn’t pick up the camera until he stopped hearing screams for help. Hacker could’ve produced even better art and copy the night of the storm. That’s not his priority. Thank God.

Anonymous said...

I have known John for a long time and the man is dedicated to his job. I would say I have never in about 15 years known him to work a mere 40 hour week. Including the tornado coverage. His contribution to this book was on his own time which he has very little of. Unlike whomever has chosen to spend their time bashing someone else. You are the one wasting time. Are you a competitor? Or What? What's your deal? Bitter person with time to spare? Seriously shut up!

Kim Gillmore said...

Thank you Randy. Thank you Jeff. For defending a good man and my friend John. I could write a lot but your replies were awesome and reflect my mutual regard for John.

Randy said...

Thanks for sharing that information, Jeff. While I appreciate the earlier comment that talked about my contributions when I was at The Press, it was a different time and a different situation. During the last nine months I was at The Press, I had a staff that included John Hacker, Ron Graber, Rick Rogers, and Jo Ellis. Earlier I had Graber, Amy Lamb, Randee Kaiser, and Brian Webster. I worked hard, but I was lucky enough to be there at a time when people up the corporate ladder at least allowed us to put out a newspaper. What John has done the last few years, keeping The Press competitive and readable while the whole structure has been pulled out from under him is nothing short of a miracle. I am hoping with this book that he finally begins to get the recognition he has long deserved.

Hacker said...

Thanks everyone and thank you Jeff. I'm not worried about one anonymous poster's apparent lack of a life. I wish I could have done more for you and your mother Jeff. She and your grandmother are wonderful ladies. As for the book, Randy's done the lion's share of the work, I've just contributed some stories and photos and I'm not even sure I've done enough to earn the co-author title. I just want the book to contribute to the history and make sure as many stories as possible are told. This was a terrible life-changing event for everyone who has known Joplin, grown up here, knows people who live here and the people who lived through it deserve to have their stories told.

Kim said...

Once again John showing your class and humility. You're a good man. Look forward to the book.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I feel that people are only thinking about themselves in this situation. What these two men are doing is wonderful. They are sharing the infromation that was given to them by people who want the communities around them to know what they have gone through. I can not believe that there are negative comments towards these two men. It isn't about them, nor is it about us. It is simply about the victims of Joplin! They are doing this for them! Respect that!

Anonymous said...

Don't waste your breath, Judi, Randy has no morals, nor has he ever, at least not in the last 15 years.

Kim said...

I just want to thank you for putting this together. I don't care what anyone says. I think this book is important to the survivors of Joplin, for many reasons, but most importantly, we see how people survive and move on. Joplin is full of hope, strength, and love and this book will help everyone else see that if they haven't already. So, again. THANK YOU! Thank you for the book, and for all the reporting you did shortly after the storm.

Randy said...

You're welcome and thank you very much for the kind words. They mean a lot.

Kim Branner said...

I live in Joplin, have for about 6 years now, I see my friends' names in your story and can't be happier that they are getting their stories heard. Sometimes.. that's all we need. To those of you that want to bash these guys.. Seems to me that maybe you aren't here, because if you were, if you walked the same roads that we do everyday, you would also want to see the amazing stories of survival. These are the stories than when we ask why this happened to us, we can look to for the answers. I think humanity needed to be reawakened, and with this storm, the Tuscaloosa one and the others this year, I think that's exactly what has happened, but how would anyone know that if these guys weren't here to tell everyone.. KEEP IT UP GUYS! Believe me Joplin Thanks you! With much love and respect always.

Debbi said...

I think is a lovely idea to put somewhere 'many' of the stories/experiences of that day.. for history and for those of us who lost loved ones/dear friends.. and for our other friends "Hero's" that saved so many lives.. they have the right to have their stories told, and heard.. this is nice..
sad the negativity that can come out in people who's oppinions are useless and detrimental.. ignore the nay sayers, press on!

Katie said...

Thank you so much for putting the time and effort into this book. So many people appreciate it! And please, don't let these miserable haters get you down. Some people have horrible lives, and it makes them feel slightly better about their miserable days, if they try to make others feel bad too. Props to you both for recording this day in history for our city. Thank you!!

Anonymous said...

I am getting a bit sick of hearing about Will Norton. What about all the other children hurt or killed who have NO NAMES? Have we forgotten the heart wrenching pleas for Lance Hare during that horrible time. Are we going to have pearls of wisdom from that attention seeking AUNT TRACY as well?
If you are going to share stories...share ALL of them....Not just the ones that you THINK might sell a book. 3 STORIES OF WILL NORTON?? REALLY????
And calling him the FACE of Joplin is disgraceful.
My heart goes out to all the REAL folk of Joplin...those who have had to struggle in silence..without the media hype or the volunteers coming simply to help as opposed to being connected to a name.
God bless ALL the heroes of Joplin...ALL OF THEM!!!!!

"Children In The Eye Of The Storm" said...

I cant believe someone would say that about Mr.Hacker. He has went above and beyond when it comes to reporting news. With out his help and other reporters of the Carthage Press. My daughter that has the fund raiser "Children In The Eye Of The Storm" Would not have gotten the word out of what she was doing to help the children of Joplin! He has been with her all the way! I've seen his news make it all the way to the UK! and Canada! So " I think he is doing a fine job in his reporting." In fact the day Trinity was giving the check to the Ronald McDonald House of Joplin. He stopped what he was doing. To leave what he was doing to report this. In fact Trinity was not going to give the Check to them until he made it. Because she could have gave the check to them because the Joplin Globe was there and KODE news12 along with a few others. But NO she wanted him there because like I said he had helped her spread the news on her story. And has grown to like Mr.Hacker as well as I. For helping her. Keep up the good work John Hacker. Thank you for your service and help to the people of Carthage. Thank you Rhett,Shelly, and Trinity. Oh! And Trinity said she wants to buy a copy when it comes out. And so do the rest of us! Thank you Randy and John for all that you do. God Bless you both.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with one of the anonymous people about the Will Norton thing. There were 160 that lost their lives. Lantz Hare was a smart, happy, caring kid who loved to help others and mentored kids, Crystal Whitely lost 2 of her 3 children, Edie Howard lost her husband and 2 children. What about those who laid down their own lives protecting others?? Will was not the face of this. This is meant to be no disrespect towards the Norton family for I continue to pray for them daily but there are THOUSANDS of faces of this storm.

Anonymous said...

Seems as though every news story gets their stars and certainly Will Norton was one of this disaster. He was from a prominent Joplin family, but that doesn't take away the pain. I know his father suffering from his own injuries, and was with Will and holding him during the tornado. Having your son fly out of your arms and not knowing for days if he was alive or dead, well that is newsworthy and he was a good face to put on our story. I do however understand your point about the many many other stories that were not spotlighted. There were 160 deaths nearly 1000 injuries and multiple stories to go with each. I hope that there will be a way that John and Randy can expand this to include many of the other survivors, and victims. I know their heart is in it. Lets find a way to get everyone's story heard that wants it heard.

Randy said...

I am sorry to disappoint you, but the book is not going to be expanded.It is already with the designer. The focus on Will Norton was not because we considered his death to be any more important than any other. That is not the case. The book includes a story I wrote about Will Norton after I was hired by Chapman University Magazine to write an article about him. The work on that article included covering his funeral and I was hired after the folks at Chapman read a Turner Report post on Will Norton's death. Both of those are included in the book. I also included Rose Fogarty's story about coming here becaue of Will Norton, because it is well written and because it is an excellent representation of the thousands of volunteers who came to Joplin after the tornado.

The book includes obituaries of 158 of the 160 people who were killed. One was added to the list after the book was sent to the designer. I was unable to find information on the other. This was our way of making sure that the stories of everyone who died were told in this book. That list includes several obituaries which never appeared in the Joplin Globe, including some that I tracked down at out-of-state funeral homes and out-of-state newspapers.

There are far more stories about people who survived the tornado, told in their own words. The book also includes accounts from volunteers, information from interviews we did, and quite a bit about the job done by the hospitals and emergency workers.

We also are trying to make it a book with some official documents from the tornado aftermath, including the aforementioned obituaries, the National Weather Service official report, and the complete transcript of the memorial service at Missouri Southern.

There are also an incredible number of photos taken by John Hacker, my co-author, who I might add, spent far more time just after the tornado helping in the rescue process than he did taking photos.

If you are looking for this book to tell every story about the tornado, that is not going to happen. That would be impossible and would take much more time than we have. We have always been running up against an August deadline to get everything finished for the book since I will be devoting most of my time to teaching from this point on and John has a full-time job running The Carthage Press.

If you are looking for a good book about the Joplin Tornado, this book will not disappoint you. If you are looking for a comprehensive history that covers every aspect, that has never been our intention. The book is subtitled "Stories from the Joplin Tornado," because that is exactly what it is.

Niki M said...

Anonymous.......get a life, ur prolly a 40 yr old virgin in mommys basement with nothing better to do than post ur 2 cents & opinions where theyre not needed. U & ur comments are about as useful as a poop flavored lollipop & ur negativity is not needed......u shoulda been a dumpster baby! & if u talk about will norton again I will find u & stab u in the face with a soldering iron.....just sayin. Have a blessed day! :D

Jaclyn said...

As a person who called the Joplin area my home for 12 years of my life, I am appalled at all of the negative comments directed towards the author of this book. Although I do not personally know this man, he is one of many people who is trying to honor Joplin and its people through a book that chronicles the tragic tornado.

Although many people lost their lives in the tornado, there is nothing inappropriate about putting 3 stories in the book about Will Norton. His story seemed particularly tragic because he died on his way home from graduation. Kat von Dee, of "LA Ink," of whom Will Norton was a huge fan, also wrote a brief post on Twitter honoring his memory. So, there was a lot of national attention on him after the tornado. For his story to not be part of this book would not be fitting either.

My heart and prayers go out to all those who have lost loved ones, homes, and their town in this tornado. Joplin will never be the same. I pray that God can continue to bring healing and strength to all touched by this tragedy.

Thank you Randy Turner and John Hacker, for putting this book together.