The swarm of tornadoes and powerful storms that leveled large swaths of communities across the Midwest and the South, reducing them to heartbreaking panoramas of devastation, claimed dozens of lives, with many more feared dead.
A 2-month-old girl whose family was hunkering down Saturday in Dawson Springs, Kentucky, before the violent winds wrenched them from their home later succumbed to her injuries, making her one of the youngest so far of the more than 70 people killed in the storms.
Some were cherished grandparents, siblings and children. One mother wrote on social media after her 21-year-old son’s body was pulled from the rubble: “My baby … I can’t believe I lost my precious baby boy.”
These are some of the victims:
Oaklynn Koon, 2 months old
As a tornado whipped through Dawson Springs, the Koon family took shelter in a bathroom. Oaklynn was strapped into her car seat, which her parents hoped would buffer her, according to her father, Douglas. Her two older brothers were lying down in the bathtub, pillows on top of them. Koon’s mother-in-law, whose house they were at, was crammed into the bathroom with them.
Their efforts were no match for the winds.
“I was helpless in protecting my kids against it,” Koon told MSNBC on Sunday morning from a hospital while he awaited a CT scan for one of his sons and while Oaklynn was undergoing treatment for her injuries. “It just picked us up and threw us around and landed us on the other side of the neighbor’s house.”
One of his sons had a cut on his head, the other was trapped under debris and Oaklynn appeared badly bruised but OK, he said. He ran to take all three children to safety, grabbing Oaklynn by the car seat that she was still strapped into.
In the hospital, the boys, Koon, his wife and mother-in-law received stitches and other medical care and were all discharged, a GoFundMe organized for the family said. Oaklynn’s health, however, started to decline. By later Sunday, she had to be flown to a different hospital because of a stroke that doctors suspected was caused by injured neck veins, the fundraising page said.
On Monday, the page announced Oaklynn had died.
“This doesn’t seem real,” Koon and his wife, Jackie, wrote Monday on their Facebook page.
Daniel, a corrections officer, was supervising inmates on work release at the Mayfield Consumer Products’ candle factory when the building they were working the night shift in was flattened.
As the tornado slammed into the factory, Daniel put the inmates’ safety over his own, ordering them to crouch against walls or other areas where they might survive, his colleagues told ABC affiliate WHAS-11 in Louisville, Kentucky. Every inmate made it out alive, the station reported.
“We will miss Robert Daniel forever until we meet again,” read a Facebook post from his employer, the Graves County Jail and Restricted Custody Center. “He did his job honorably and professionally until the very end.”
Daniel’s cousin Mark Saxton, who was also working in the factory at the time and escaped with minor injuries, described him as someone who was “always happy and had a good spirit.”
Law enforcement officers from across the region are expected to attend services for Daniel, when a flag dedication will take place in his honor, according to WHAS-11.
Devin Burton, 21
Burton, a recent graduate of Graves County High School, was among those killed at Mayfield Consumer Products.
His body was retrieved from the rubble over the weekend. His mother, Denise Cunningham, posted on Facebook that she tried desperately to contact him when she learned the building had collapsed. She and others held out hope that he would be found alive, believing he was in the same area of the facility from where others were rescued.
“My baby … I can’t believe I lost my precious baby boy,” Cunningham posted.
Friends remembered Burton for his playful personality and the care he showed whenever they were feeling down.
“How do u go from seeing someone all the time to never again,” one friend wrote, sharing pictures and videos on Facebook. “How will we heal?”
Lannis ‘Joe’ Ward
Autumn Kirks said she and Ward had been dating for about a year and were saving money to buy a house. They were working the night shift at the Mayfield candle factory for extra money when the tornado struck.
Kirks said she and some other employees took cover under stands used to store wax and fragrance buckets. She tried to keep an eye on Ward, but as a team leader she had to make sure other co-workers were safe.
Then Ward, whom Kirks described as “a big teddy bear,” disappeared — and all she could do was wait. She learned the following day that he died.
“He was just a loving person,” she said Monday on MSNBC. “He didn’t really have a hatred for anybody.”
She said she’s tried to explain to her children, as well as Ward’s children, that he is no longer with them.
“My 3-year-old just keeps asking to talk to Joe, and I don’t know what to tell her,” Kirks said.