Alabama tornado claims children, seniors among victims
BEAUREGARD, Ala. (AP) — At least 23 people, ranging from 6 to 89 years old, died Sunday when a massive tornado slammed into the small community of Beauregard, Alabama. Here are some of their stories:
SHEILA CREECH and MARSHAL LYNN GRIMES
Sheila Creech, 59, had been staying at companion Marshal Lynn Grimes’ home in Alabama while damage from Hurricane Michael was being repaired at her Panama City Beach, Florida, apartment building, her granddaughter said.
Creech and Grimes, also 59, had a long, sometimes tumultuous history, granddaughter Desteni Clifton told the Montgomery Advertiser .
As a young couple, they had two children together, before moving on to new relationships and having more children with other partners, Clifton said.
Two years ago, the internet brought Creech and Grimes back together. They rekindled their romance, even planning marriage.
They had been camping over the weekend, bringing along Taylor Thornton, a friend of Grimes’ 11-year-old daughter, Clifton said.
“I guess they maybe didn’t hear the sirens, or if they did, it was too late for them to get anywhere safe,” Clifton said. “It was a total surprise. She was very young and so was he.”
Grimes’ daughter broke both her legs when the tornado hit, Clifton said.
DAVID WAYNE DEAN
David Wayne Dean, 53, was known as “Roaddog” to his friends for his love of Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
“He loved his Harley. Until I come into the picture, that was his baby,” wife Carol Dean said.
She was at work when the tornado hit. Dean was in their mobile home, texting a friend to beware the storm approaching the Alabama-Georgia line. His body was found on the other side of an embankment in the neighbor’s yard.
“Our son found him,” Carol Dean said between sobs Monday. “He was done and gone before we got to him. My life is gone. He was the reason I lived, the reason that I got up.”
The metal base of their trailer was bent into a U shape around a tree, she said.
She found her wedding dress amid the wreckage, and a Father’s Day note to her husband reading, “Daddy, I love you to pieces.”
“He was a wonderful man, a loving, giving man. He took life by the reins and rode,” Carol Dean said.
ARMANDO “AJ” HERNANDEZ JR.
An energetic 6-year-old, Armando Hernandez Jr. was known to everyone as “AJ.”
“He was always happy. Every time you see him, he was smiling. He was very loving,” uncle Jack Crisp said.
Crisp said his brother hunkered down in a closet with AJ and his 10-year-old son, Jordan, as the tornado struck.
“He had them squeezed tight and he said when it came through, it just took them. It just demolished the house and took them,” Crisp said.
Authorities found AJ’s body. His brother and father remained hospitalized Monday in stable condition.
EMMANUEL, JIMMY LEE and MARY LOUISE JONES
Jackie Jones got worried when she saw television reports that said the worst of Sunday’s storm was passing close to the Beauregard house where her parents and two brothers lived.
“I decided I’d call down to the house, and I didn’t get no answer,” she said. “The phone just rang and rang and rang.”
That left her unsettled and she called her other siblings to say she feared something was wrong.
She was right. Her parents’ house had been sheared down to its foundation. Her parents, 83-year-old Mary Louise and 89-year-old Jimmy Lee Jones, and her brother, 53-year-old Emmanuel Jones, were dead.
Another brother also living in the home, 56-year-old Benjamin Jones, survived.
Mary Louise and Jimmy Lee were “ordinary folks” who had been married more than 60 years and had worked on a farm when they were younger, Jackie Jones said.
They enjoyed sitting on their front porch, talking about “the olden days and how they were raised,” she said. Her mother also taught Sunday school for decades.
Her younger brother, Emmanuel, did yard work for neighbors and enjoyed watching football and basketball, especially University of Alabama teams.
Jackie Jones said she hoped to find her mother’s photo albums amid the wreckage, because she does not have any pictures of her parents or brother.
HENRY LEWIS, FLOREL and ERIC JAMAL STENSON
A niece remembered Henry Lewis Stenson, 65, and wife Florel Stenson, 63, as “the sweetest people.”
“They dated through high school, got married — the sweetest, loving people that you could know — a very good family,” said Katrena Coleman Turner, of Huntsville.
“Uncle Henry was the go-to man. Whatever you needed, you’d call him, he’d come running,” she said.
Turner said her uncle, aunt and cousin Eric Jamal Stenson, 38, were all killed when their mobile home in Opelika was destroyed by the tornado.
Turner said she called her mother —Henry Stenson’s sister— and other relatives to check on them when she heard about the storm. A cousin later called to tell her they had been killed.
“A family member who was out looking for them found them. He found all three of them dead,” she said.
Terry Tate, Florel Stenson’s brother, said Eric Stenson was with his two teenage sons visiting his parents when the storm hit. Eric and his parents were killed; the boys, ages 14 and 17, were injured but survived, Tate said.
All five family members were thrown from the house, which was ripped apart by the force of the storm.
“Words cannot describe the disruption that happened through here,” Tate said.
Ten-year-old Taylor Thornton was among four young children killed by the tornado, authorities said.
The fourth-grade girl who loved to ride horses was as “innocent as she could be,” her mother, Ashley Thornton, said in a WSFA-TV report . “No mean bone in her body whatsoever.”
Taylor had been camping with a friend over the weekend, and she was still at the other girl’s Beauregard home when the tornado hit.
Her father rushed to the scene when there was no word from Taylor. He found only his daughter’s friend and tried to comfort her.
“He said there was nothing left,” Ashley Thornton said.
Despite pressure from deputies, David Thornton refused to leave until his daughter was found, his wife said.
“He said, ‘The only way I am leaving is with her,’” Ashley said. “He carried her out from where she was at.”
MAMIE ROBERTS KOON
Sixty-eight-year-old tornado victim Mamie Roberts Koon loved her grandchildren, her daughter said.
Melissa Hussey told the Associated Press on Tuesday that her family is “devastated” by the news of her mother’s death.
“She was loved by everyone and she will be missed,” said Hussey, who lives in Columbus, Georgia.
Hussey said she and her brother each have children, all of whom Koon adored. She said Koon was from Phenix City, Alabama, and was a retired former ABC liquor store employee.
Hussey said the fact that corporations have offered to pay the funeral costs for all 23 victims is a big help.
“That’ll take a load off the family,” she said.
This story has corrected the age of the oldest victim.