Perhaps 70 or 80 children jammed into the bathroom, he said. Some were standing. Some were sitting on the floor. His twin sister, Alexia, was huddled under a sink on the other side of the restroom. Some teachers were standing. When the tornado hit, they threw themselves on top of the children, he said.
“We thought we heard hail coming, then we realized it was debris,” he said. “Then we looked up and the whole ceiling was gone.”
Pressed up against a stall divider, Alexander watched the boiling storm pass overhead. “It’s kind of funny how it looked,” he said. “It almost looked like ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ just a bunch of papers and books above us.”
The roof was gone; mud and debris were raining in. Some of the children were calm, others came unglued, he said. “Everybody was just screaming, ‘Is everyone okay? Is everyone okay?’ I was almost on the opposite end of my sister, so I was trying to get to my sister. They were crying, screaming. A lot of people were just crying their butts off.”
All the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders in that restroom, and hundreds of other children at the school, survived one of the most powerful tornadoes in recent years, a 1.3-mile-wide monster that reached EF-5, the highest ranking on the scale that measures tornado strength. But seven children perished when the swirling winds obliterated the school, according to the state medical examiner’s office. Moore Mayor Glenn Lewis said he was told that the children died when a wall collapsed on them.
But it is becoming clear that after the decision was made to shelter the children at the school as the storm approached, teachers and staff members went to great lengths to shield them from the tornado.
The children pressed against walls in hallways or, like Alexander, crowded into at least one bathroom. The school had no safety room.
“They actually walked out. They were fine,” said Roya Partin, Alexander’s mother. “I know — it’s amazing. If you look at the school, just imagine a box of matches thrown on the floor. That’s what the whole school looks like, and everything around it.
“If you don’t believe in God before something like that, you sure do now.”
Partin was huddled at home in this suburb in a tornado-prone swath of Oklahoma, less than a mile from the school. She, her husband and two other children — ages 6 and 3 — moved to the interior of the home, blankets and pillows pulled over their heads. Their home was destroyed, but the family escaped unscathed.