Two of the 24 people known to have been killed in the tornado that pulverized a suburb of Oklahoma City on Monday were infants, the local medical examiner’s office announced Wednesday.
Case Futrell, 4 months old, and mother Megan Futrell, 29, died of blunt-force trauma, according to an information sheet released by the Oklahoma City medical examiner’s office. A cousin told the Oklahoman newspaper’s online edition that Megan Futrell had sought refuge from the storm for herself and her baby in the walk-in cooler of a 7-Eleven that was destroyed in the storm.
Other very young tornado victims included Sydnee Vargyas, 7 months old, and 4-year-old Karrina Vargyas. The British Daily Mail identified the girls as sisters, the youngest of the four children of Laurinda and Phillip Vargyas. The girls were home with their mother when the storm struck, the Daily Mail said. Their home was destroyed.
Seven of the dead were 8- and 9-year-old youngsters, the medical examiner’s office said, apparently students at the Plaza Towers Elementary School. The school was among hundreds of buildings reduced to rubble by the storm that devastated Moore, Okla., a city of 55,000 about 11 miles south of downtown Oklahoma City.
Fourteen storm victims were adults. As of Wednesday night all of the 24 known victims had been identified, said Amy Elliott, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner’s office.
In the chaotic hours after the tornado struck Monday, carving a swath of destruction more than a mile wide and some 17 miles long, officials mistakenly said at least 51 people — and possibly nearly twice that — had been killed. Elliott later said the inaccurate toll came, in part, because some fatalities had been counted more than once.
Most of those whose deaths were detailed by the medical examiner’s office Wednesday died of blunt-force trauma. A few were asphyxiated. More than 200 people were injured by the tornado, and hundreds of homes, businesses and other buildings were destroyed. Preliminary damage estimates were running as high as $1 billion.
The schoolchildren who were killed were identified as: Antonia Candelaria, 9; Kyle Davis, 8; Janae Hornsby, 9; Sydney Angle, 9; Emily Conatzer, 9; Nicolas McCabe, 9; and Christopher Legg, 9. In addition to Megan Futrell, the medical examiner’s office identified the adults killed by the tornado as: Hemant Bhonde, 65; Richard Brown, 41; Leslie Johnson, 46; Rick Jones, 54; Terri Long, 49; Jenny Neely, 38; Cindy Plumley, 45; Shannon Quick, 40; Tewauna Robinson, 45; William Sass, 63; Randy Smith, 39; Gina Stromski, 51; and Deanna Ward, 70.
Interviewed on CNN on Wednesday morning, Janae’s father and aunt described her as an exuberant little girl whose personality could light up a room. “She was the best kid anybody could have,” Joshua Hornsby said. “She was a ball of energy. A ball of love.”
Hundreds of other children at the school survived the tornado, huddling with their teachers in bathrooms, fleeing the building with frantic parents or seeking safety by pressing against interior walls.
Others had the good fortune not to be at school Monday. Bridgett Simon kept her 10-year-old daughter, Kayla Holt, home to help Kayla’s grandmother clean her house, which had been hit by a different tornado that tore through Sunday.
An hour after the family returned to its home, on 12th Street in Moore, they turned on the radio to hear a warning. “The man said if you were not underground when the storm hit, you would die,” Kayla said.
As the storm pressed down, Simon and Kayla ran across the street to a friend’s storm shelter and started banging on the door. The neighbor tried to open the door, but it jammed.
“I was crying, and she was crying, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry,’ ” Simon said.
Kayla, who was carrying her two dogs under her arm, slipped in the mud and then looked down the street; the tornado was a block away. As she and Simon ran back to their house, the roof started peeling off. They hid in a closet, but “I could feel us being lifted up,” Kayla said.
After the storm passed, they went back to their neighbor’s home and pried open the storm shelter. The neighbor fell on them crying, saying she thought they had died.
“We’re all going to have to get some counseling after this,” Simon said.
Kayla lost five friends at Plaza Towers. She said she and Emily Conatzer had been best friends for three years. They had a falling out this year, as third-graders sometimes do, but they recently made up.
“I wish,” Kayla said, “she didn’t have to die.”
Melissa Bell in Moore, Okla., contributed to this report.