Tag Archives: Joplin tornado


There was this girl that would show up at our house all the time when I was a young kid growing up in Baxter Springs, Kansas. Her name was Crystal Whitely.

She was always welcome in our home. A friend of my sister Heather, and three years younger, the two were always tooling around. They were in the same class and Crystal lived right across the alley from us. Both her parents and mine still live in the same space all these years later.

That’s the way it is down there. People raise their families, work their jobs, live their lives, and grow together in small communities.

My remembrance of Crystal is that she was a fairly quiet person. But man, do I remember she and my sister hanging out quite a bit through the years.

As they do, times changed. Crystal got married and separated, and was raising her three children in Joplin, Mo., when the May 22, 2011 Joplin tornado hit.

On that evening, she was at home with her 3 children, Shante (10), Trentan (6) and Keana (4). She had no basement to take shelter in, so they huddled together. The tornado ripped Shante and Trentan from her arms.

Shante died during the tornado and Trentan sustained a traumatic brain injury and died the next day. Crystal was severly injured and has had several surgeries to remove debris from her wounded body.

In addition to losing her two children, she and Keana lost everything including the clothes off of their backs.

Baxter Springs Helping Crystal Whitely – Joplin Tornado facebook fan page

The winds, tore.

The days and weeks that followed were filled with surgeries. Fractured ribs. Collapsed lung. Six days in the hospital. More surgeries, one that took out a piece of wood the size of your pinky. Then more surgeries.

And then, the darkness.

By July, things appeared to be hitting Crystal hard, as noted by her facebook posts:

Whomever came up with the phrase “time heals everything” never lost a child!

I miss the way your face lights up when u see me, the sparkle in your eyes when I smile at you, the warmth of your touch. I miss my babies ­čÖü

I would luv to have a day that i dont have a dr.’s appt or anything that has to do w the tornado … my depression gtn worse n my stress goin up…bout to my breaking point :{

Benefits from friends starting coming together, and her story was told in the local newspaper, The Joplin Globe: Mother of storm victims getting by ‘day by day’

Time wore on. Aug. 22 would have been the first day of school. Shante would have started fifth grade; Trentan in first. That was also the three-month anniversary of the tornado.

When you lose the ones you love, numbers are seared into your soul.

And, in an event like this, it brings a clarity most of us don’t have the ability to understand:

Be happy with what you have and be thankful not to take people for granted. Do you want people to disappear in your life and the last thing they remember is you being childish?

Crystal gets it. Do you?

Do I?

This is a terrible story. There are many, many more from Joplin like it.

So why did I title this post, “Hope?”

Her friends have given a tremendous outpouring of love and affection to Crystal and her daughter. They set up fund-raisers, organized fun things to do to help her cope (she loves football and came to K.C. to see a game recently) and let her know, consistently and faithfully, she is loved.

And on Oct. 19, Crystal found out she was the recipient of a new house from the ABC show Extreme Makeover Home Edition. After returning home from a trip to Disney World, she saw her new home yesterday.

Hope is powerful. Use it.

“The best way out is always through.”Robert Frost


D.C. – Going red for Joplin

In my college days in Joplin, Missouri, I worked on the student newspaper, The Chart, with a student named Kiki Coffman. She was crazy smart and had a journalist’s heart.

One day, she was hanging out on one of the few computers that were linked to the World Wide Web back then, and was on this crazy kind of screen I had never seen before. I asked her what she was doing, and she told me it was called a chat room. It was my first introduction to the web, which ended up becoming my full-time profession/obsession.

Kiki, now with a new last name -├é┬áL’Italien – works for DelCor in the Washington, D.C. area. Along with her sister, Kylee and├é┬áLindsey Rosenthal of Events for Good, she’s putting on a fund-raiser from 6 to 9 p.m., Monday, June 13 in D.C.

The event is called “Show Me” Support For Joplin – A Red Tie Affair and more information can be found at http://www.red4joplin.org.

If you’re in the D.C. area, please consider supporting this event. The proceeds will go toward a great cause – helping the survivors of the Joplin tornado – and you’ll be supporting some Joplin expats. We appreciate your help.



I spent the day in Joplin, Missouri digging through the ruins of my friend’s home.

My friend, best man from my wedding and occasional canoeing buddy, English teacher Jeff Page, lived at 2301 Pennsylvania in Joplin. His home was completely destroyed by an F5 tornado on Sunday, May 22.

Jeff managed to survive the storm by standing in a doorway between the front room and his kitchen. It was an older home, one with the kind of wood that creeked elegantly as you went up the stairs, and likewise, had some decent wood throughout the home. He had a crawlspace, but the storm was on him so fast, he didn’t have time to get to it.

Somehow, he survived.

He showed me the hole he crawled out of after his home collapsed on him. He managed to escape with only a sprained ankle and 20 cuts, although he hasn’t found his cat, Cranberry. Jeff told me, “The only thing I am really upset about is losing the cat!”

This is the hole my friend, Jeff, crawled out of to get to safety after his house collapsed around him.

Our mission today was simple: Do whatever we could to recover anything of value Jeff wanted to keep.├é┬áWe recovered only a few handfuls of items. Some of that wasn’t in great shape after having been rained on for a few days after the storm. I was pretty proud of my ability to find a few coins he was interested in finding, but I wish we could have recovered more.

The front of the house destroyed by the tornado.

A quick sidenote: Interestingly enough, Jeff’s car wouldn’t start – no click, no turn, nothing. I’ve heard there are other similar stories after the storm. I found this curious: Can tornadoes emit an├é┬áelectromagnetic pulse?

No matter what’s shown in the media, you’ve already realized it doesn’t compare to seeing it in person. The air was thick. The smell of gasoline and oil wafted around us as we worked. The drone of chainsaws echoed around the ├é┬áremains of the splinters that used to be called a neighborhood.

There were about 10 of us total throughout the day, working from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Our efforts were stymied by the huge mass of wood, shingles and other materials that was seemingly unmovable. The rest will likely end up in a landfill, burned, or whatever they do in times like these. At the end of the day, we can say we did our best, recovered a few things and all of us celebrated the survival of our friend through the storm.

"In prosperity your friends know you. In adversity, you know your friends." ├óÔéČÔÇŁ Unknown

As we left, my wife and I traveled east through Joplin to survey more of the damage. I can describe it├é┬ábest as hell. At several points I realized I wasn’t sure where I was while I was driving.├é┬áRecognizable├é┬álandmarks were gone. Street signs were├é┬ánonexistent.├é┬áI grew up very close to Joplin and have been down these streets many, many times. That bit of “home” for me doesn’t exist anymore. It’s dead.

I really don’t know the people of Joplin move forward. There’s so much to clean up. Rebuilding will take years. The grief of getting over the loss of loved ones will take a lifetime.

Kiss your loved ones. Do things that matter. Don’t waste your life. Be prepared for the storms.

They will come.

Update (11/08/2011): On November 7, 2011, Jeff was reunited with his cat, Cranberry, who ended up making it through the storm after all and was found by an animal rescuer.