MOORE, Okla. – One girl is so afraid of the wind that she carries headphones to block out the sound. Other kids are traumatized by the memory of their narrow escape from the storm and the friends who died just a few feet away from them.
Nearly three months after a twister blasted through Moore and destroyed two elementary schools, students are preparing to go back to class. Although many families are ready to return to a familiar routine, parents and teachers say the town’s children have fears that are still fresh and a lot more healing to do.
Both schools — Plaza Towers Elementary and Briarwood Elementary — have been razed to concrete slabs, as have most of the surrounding homes. Students will attend class in temporary buildings starting Friday.
District officials hope the new school year marks a fresh start in the lives of children who survived the May 20 tornado, which killed 24 people and wrecked scores of homes and businesses along a 17-mile path through the heart of this Oklahoma City suburb.
“I’m not going to act as though those first couple of weeks [after the storm] weren’t so terribly difficult, because they were,” said Superintendent Robert Romines, a longtime Moore resident who took the district’s top post over the summer. “But since that day, we have turned a lot of corners. After our last funeral, we turned a corner.”
Parents of some of the children who attended Plaza Towers, where seven third-graders were crushed by a collapsing wall, say their kids frighten easily, especially during severe weather, and are often haunted by thoughts of their friends who died. “There was screaming and crying,” recalled 9-year-old Ruby Macias, who was trapped under the same wall.
Now Ruby gets scared whenever the weather turns bad and remains troubled by the death of her close friend, Sydney Angle, who was also 9.
“She says she dreams about her friend,” said Ruby’s mother, Veronica Macias. “I don’t know what to tell her.”
Jennifer Doan, the third-grade teacher of six of the seven kids who died at Plaza Towers, suffered fractures in her spine and sternum when the wall fell in one piece on top of her and her students who had taken cover in a school hallway.
Doan, 30, shielded two students who were closest to her from the full weight of the wall, but she says she’s still disturbed by memories of the ones she couldn’t protect, especially when she reunites with her students who survived. “I’ve been told over and over I couldn’t have done anything else, and I know I did help save the ones that were right there under me. But of course, it reminds me of my other ones that I couldn’t save,” Doan said.
“I’m a little nervous about the beginning of school because I want the kids so badly to feel good and comfortable at school,” said Plaza Towers Principal Amy Simpson, who took cover from the storm in a 4-by-5-foot bathroom with her office staff and emerged to find a mangled car on a co-worker’s desk. Simpson kept in touch with many of her students over the summer and knows that they are still healing. “Last night it rained and some of the kids started to cry. They’re still trying to process it all,” Simpson said. “This summer has been anything but normal, but school is a norm. It’s a constant, where they see the same people.”