MOORE, Okla. — Nicknamed “The Wall,” 8-year-old Kyle Davis loved soccer and going to Monster Truck exhibitions at the fairgrounds with his grandfather. JaNae Hornsby, 9, loved to draw, sing, and be a big sister and cousin to her younger relatives.
The two were among the young victims of Monday’s monstrous tornado, their small bodies pulled from the rubble of Plaza Towers Elementary School after it was reduced to a massive heap of bricks and twisted metal. Twenty-two others were killed, including 10 children and five other 9-year-olds at the one-story building.
As the ominous funnel cloud began its 17-mile path, Kyle took shelter in the school’s gymnasium with dozens of other students, his grandfather Marvin Dixon said Wednesday.
“He was in the position that the teacher told them to be in —crouched down with their hands over their heads,” Dixon said. “The medical examiner said either some big rock or beam or something fell right on the back of his neck. He said he died instantly.”
Dixon counted his grandson among the lucky ones. The medical examiner reported the six other children who died at the school suffocated after being buried under a mass of bricks, steel and other materials as the building collapsed. Dixon said a morgue worker told him some of the children who suffocated were huddled in one of the school’s bathrooms.
“He said some of the kids were hurt so bad it was tough to even identify them,” Dixon said, his voice cracking with emotion.
Kyle earned his nickname, “The Wall,” because of the ferocity with which he played his favorite sport — soccer.
“He was a pretty big kid,” his grandfather said. “Whenever he had the ball, other kids would just bounce off of him. That’s why they called him that. … He was just the kindest, most giving kid you would ever meet. He had a grin from ear to ear.”
JaNae’s father Joshua rushed toward the Plaza Towers school when he realized the powerful tornado packing speeds up to 200 mph was bearing down on the town. But it took him 30 minutes. The tornado already slammed through the building.
“I was just in panic,” Hornsby said, recalling those minutes when he realized the school had been hit and he hadn’t made it in time.
“I just kept going until I got to the school and when I got to the school I started to look for JaNae,” he said Wednesday, sitting on the small front porch of a relative’s home in nearby Oklahoma City.
By then, the third-grader was among those suffocated beneath the debris. The official cause of death was mechanical asphyxia.
Frantic, he combed through the rubble with other students and first responders looking desperately for JaNae. Slowly, more and more children were pulled from the rubble. Some had scratches and bruises. Some were bleeding. But they were alive. And none of them were JaNae.
With each passing minute, “there was still more panic,” Hornsby said.
For two days, Hornsby and a small group of parents whose children were not found in the rubble waited at a church in Moore.
“I was still hopeful that maybe she would turn up,” Hornsby said, thinking she might be at a friend’s house or someplace else.
On Tuesday, he was at the church when he received the news.
His daughter was among the 10 children killed, buried under the rubble of a school that had always been a safe haven for them.
The family’s house, just three blocks from the school, also was destroyed. He hasn’t gone back to see if he might find a few of JaNae’s things to keep.
“JaNae was the life of the party. If JaNae was there you were having a good time. She liked to sing, be a big sister, be a big cousin. She liked to draw,” he said smiling as he remembered the small girl.
As family gathered to make funeral arrangements and comfort one another, Hornsby looked behind him into the house.
“If she was here she would just have everybody laughing and she would be in the midst of everything. She loved the spotlight,” he said.
The family of 9-year-old Christopher Legg described him as someone who never met a stranger. Christopher, who also suffocated inside the school, played football, baseball and basketball and “loved to roughhouse and wrestle” with his father, older brother and little sister, his family said in a statement. The youngster also faced his diagnosis with skin cancer and joint problems in his knees “with the same strength and enthusiasm that he had for life.”
Sydney Angle, another 9-year-old killed at Plaza Towers, was lovingly referred to as “a pickle” by her softball coach Landon McNeill, who was with the girl’s parents as they waited at a church for news about their daughter.
“Sydney was real quirky,” McNeill said. “She could be anywhere and have fun doing it.”