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Relatives of Miss. tornado victim say she lost her life shielding her 3 sons from raging winds

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Nikki Bradshaw Carpenter was tough: she could kill a deer and skin it. But when it came to her three sons, the 31-year-old mother was a nurturer and a protector.

Thus, friends and family say it came as no surprise to learn Carpenter had lost her life trying to shield her children from last weekend's killer tornado.

Rodney Bradshaw, her cousin, said he found Carpenter pinned by two collapsed walls, a washing machine and a refrigerator. Two of her sons were beneath her; a third at her feet. All three children survived.

On Thursday, a funeral was held for Carpenter, one of the 10 Mississippi victims of the severe weather system that kicked up tornadoes around the South and also left two dead in Alabama.

James Bradshaw said his daughter was just 5-foot-5 and slim, but had a powerhouse personality.

"I don't think she's met anybody that she wouldn't talk to," Bradshaw said. "I used to take her hunting and fishing. She killed a deer this past season, hung the deer, skinned it and cut it up and put it in the freezer. She was very feisty."

Bentonia Police Chief Edward Ferrell said an investigation supports the account of Carpenter's final moments given by family members. Ferrell and other local emergency officials responded to calls by those hit hard by the storm's rampage through Yazoo County.

Moments before the twister barreled down the rural road where she lived in a mobile home, Carpenter's phone rang with a warning about the storm.

"We don't know who called. We never recovered the phone. Whoever it was saved them," said James Bradshaw, whose oldest grandson told him about the call.

Hoping to preserve precious memories, Carpenter pulled family photographs from the wall. Then, she grabbed the boys, piled pillows on top of them and covered them with her body. The twister lifted the trailer in the air like a paperclip, throwing it more than 100 yards, said Rodney Bradshaw.

The boys sustained some bruises. Bradshaw said his oldest grandson told him about her final minutes.

When Rodney Bradshaw, arrived at the scene, he said the sight was jarring: "The two littlest ones were under her. The oldest one was at her feet. I still can't get her face out of my head."

For now, Nicholas Layne, 7; Ethan, 2; and Austin, 1, are in the care of James Bradshaw, who lives in Florence, a small town southeast of Jackson.

He said a memorial service will be held for Carpenter in his hometown on May 8.