Police officer walks Ch. 2 through tornado ravaged school

by: David Chandley Updated:


MOORE, Okla. - Students from Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Okla., were reunited with their teachers Thursday and gathered what belongings they could salvage from the building after the school took a direct hit from a massive EF5 tornado Monday afternoon.

Of the 24 deaths in Moore from the tornado, seven were from inside the school. Thursday, the first funeral for a student killed in the storm was held -- for a 9-year-old.

Sgt. Jeremy Lewis of the Moore Police Department took a Channel 2 Action News crew through the school Thursday.

Severe Weather Team 2 Meteorologist David Chandley said as a father, it was very emotional as they walked through the hallways where children died.

Lewis showed Chandley room after room that had been ripped apart by the storm, including the cafeteria. Pizza boxes could still be seen where lunch had been served the day of the storm.

Lewis told Chandley the loss of so many children inside the school was especially hard for first responders.

"Anytime you lose life, it is awful. But whenever we lose children, that, as first responders, it really bothers us," Lewis told Chandley.

Lewis said he had done many safety talks at the school and told Chandley he is beyond shocked by the destruction left by the storm.

"It's just very upsetting, just looking at this and knowing what the kids were going through in this school," Lewis said.

As the Channel 2 crew walked through the school, it became very apparent why children were told to run into the hallways during the storm. Classrooms were completely destroyed, with their walls and roofs torn completely off by the tornado, while interior hallways remained standing.

"I believe this storm will change the way we do things here in Oklahoma," Lewis said.

Lewis said he would like area schools to keep children home during possible severe weather, like snow days in the winter. But in a storm like Monday's, the 400 children inside Plaza Towers Elementary School were safer there than the surrounding neighborhood.

While Lewis said he was proud of his fellow first responders, it was neighbors that got to the school first to get the children out.

"They pulled kids out from underneath brick walls that didn't have a scratch on them. They were just trapped underneath the walls. So there are a lot of miracles here, too," Lewis said.

After touring what was left of Plaza Towers Elementary, Chandley ran into a mom whose son attends the school. She said she sat terrified as she watched TV as the storm hit, not knowing if her husband made it to the school in time to pick up their son Zach before the storm hit.

"As a mom, you wanted to be there to protect him, and I wasn't there to protect him," Julie Lewis' said.

She told Chandley the events of Monday's storm are still fresh.

"I was headed straight to our house and I couldn't get ahold of my husband, and I wasn't sure if he was going to get there in time to pick him, but he did," Lewis said.

The Lewises live in the school's neighborhood. Zach's dad came to the school minutes before the tornado hit.

He and Zach hid in their storm shelter and came out to massive destruction.

"When I saw him, all I could do was cry. And thank God my husband had the insight to go and get him from school," Lewis said.

Zach told Chandley he wants to be a meteorologist when he grows up. Chandley talked to Zach about the weather, trying to distract him for a bit from what had happened at his school.

"Some of them died, like seven of them. It's really bad," Zach told Chandley.

Chandley asked Lewis what might change in the future. She said she would like to see shelters put in the schools.

"And they have to do that. I know they're short on money, but that doesn't matter anymore. They have to have protection. Especially in Moore, Oklahoma," Lewis said.

Thursday would have been the last day of school in Moore, but before Zach can start summer vacation, he has to go to the funeral for one of his friends.

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