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Elementary School Creates Shadow Box Of Tornado Memories

(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Joel Thomas
Joel is an Emmy Award winning journalist with more than 15 year...
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JOHNSON COUNTY (CBS 11 NEWS) – About 90 minutes after a tornado hit in Granbury on May 15, 2013, an EF-3 twister touched down in Cleburne. The tornado was a full mile wide and cut a clear path across the city.

One block, in a residential neighborhood, was particularly hard hit. In the middle of the downed power lines and debris from shattered homes sat a school.

Teachers, administrators and staff at Gerard Elementary put together a shadow box of memories from the twister that struck their side of Cleburne.

There are pictures of the flagpole knocked down in front of the school’s entrance, with the American flag still attached. There’s a folded shirt with a large Cleburne High School ‘C’ on it and the word “strong” beneath it. At the center of the display is a street sign that flew off a pole more than a block away. It went through a plate glass window and down a hallway in the school.

Dillon Grisham was among the gathering of students who attended the dedication of the shadowbox. The 11-year-old recalls his own memories of the tornado every day. He was living in a duplex across the street from the school when the storm roared in.

“I felt the bathroom shaking,” Grisham said. “My mom said she felt the bathroom door going in and out like a hundred people trying to get in.”

After the twister passed, Grisham had to dig his way out of the rubble of his home.

“It looked like someone set [off] a bomb, ’cause all the power lines were down and they were still live and some weren’t. You didn’t know where to step,” he remembered. “It was like a war zone.”

“All the poles and everything were on top of the house. There was a motor thing from a lawnmower up on the roof.”

The debris is gone now. The one-year tornado anniversary ceremony at the elementary school was meant to provide some closure. But, the tornado left lingering emotional scars.

“When storms happen, to this day, I’m still scared,” Grisham admitted.

After the ceremony, some of the students gathered around the shadowbox and excitedly buzzed about its content.

“Where was that Hyde Park sign?” a teacher asks the students looking at the street sign.

“It was all the way over there!” they yell, pointing to the street corner on the far side of their playground and across the street.

Children in the school and residents in the city share emotions and anxieties and they help each other cope.

Speaking of his students Principal Joel Blalock said, “The other day when we had the storms and the rain, they still show emotion. They’re scared. They want their parents. I had one kid who personally asked me to walk him to his vehicle, because he was scared and I did that. We try to reassure them the best that we can.”

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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