Published May 23, 2013
MOORE, Okla. – One loved the spotlight. Another was nicknamed "The Wall" because of the force he brought to the soccer field.
When a top-of-the-scale EF5 tornado ripped through Moore, Okla., it took with it 24 lives. Seven of them were children at Plaza Towers Elementary school; two were only babies.
These are the victim's stories.
JaNae Hornsby, 9
One of seven children killed inside the Plaza Towers Elementary School, JaNae loved to draw and sing. She loved being the center of attention, her father said.
JaNae's house, just three blocks from the school, also was destroyed by the tornado. Her father wanted to go back to the property to see if he could 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 his little 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.
Karrina Vargyas, 4
Karrina was not quite old enough to be at school like her two older siblings. So she was at home huddled in a bathtub with her mother, younger sister and grandmother.
The tornado threw the women and children in different directions. Her parents could not find Karrina that night. It was only later that they learned that searchers had found Karrina's body in the rubble of what had been a neighbor's house.
Her father, Phillip Vargyas, said Karrina "had a smile that would light up the room." And whenever he fells the pain of her loss, her father said he likes to think of Karrina giving him a little hug.
"She was something else," Phillip Vargyas told The Oklahoman newspaper. "She wanted to figure skate. That was her dream in life."
Sydnee Vargyas, 7 months
Just 7 months old, Sydnee had crawled for the first time on Sunday. But she never really got to enjoy her newfound freedom.
Sydnee was huddled in the bathtub of her south Oklahoma City home with her older sister, mother and grandmother as a tornado bore down on them. The strong winds pulled Sydnee out of her mother's grasp.
When the debris stopped swirling, Laurinda Vargyas said she found Sydnee on a driveway.
"She was just laying there helpless. All I could do was sit there and hold her. She was already gone," Laurinda Vargyas told The Oklahoman newspaper. "They say she didn't suffer. So I've got to find peace with that."
Terri Long, 49
Long, a mother of three, was driving home from her job as a registrar at the Federal Aviation Administration when she stopped at a 7-Eleven store about 2 miles from her home. That's where she died when the tornado hit.
"I have no idea why she stopped there; I'm still trying to figure that out," said her husband of 10 years, Ken Long, his voice cracking with sorrow. But he has a guess: "She was probably trying to get away" from the tornado.
For several hours after the tornado, Long didn't know of his wife's fate — not until her brother called her cellphone, and a police officer answered by saying her purse had been found at the convenience store.
Terri Long may have fared no better had she made it home. Her husband, who was at work at the time of the tornado, said their house was destroyed, too. A couple of days after the tornado, Long still didn't even have any pictures of his wife in his possession. He had only memories.
"She was just a happy person that loved her kids and family, loved Harleys and loved to be outside," Ken Long said.
A funeral was planned Friday for Terri Long. She would have turned 50 on Monday.
Kyle Davis, 8
He was known to his friends as "The Wall."
It was a tribute to the ferocity Kyle brought to his beloved sport, soccer, and the way other players seemed to bounce off him as they went for the ball, said his grandfather, Marvin Dixon.
Kyle was among six 9-year-olds who died in the Plaza Towers Elementary School. Kyle had taken shelter in the school's gymnasium with dozens of other students.
"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."
It would take a sizeable force to bring down Kyle's large but playful personality.
"He was a pretty big kid," Dixon 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."
Christopher Legg, 9
Christopher's years were defined by courage in the face of daunting illness.
Diagnosed with skin cancer and Osgood-Schlatter disease — an illness which can cause painful inflammation in the knees of young athletes — Christopher nevertheless loved to play sports and "roughhouse and wrestle with his Daddy" and his brother and sister, according to a statement issued by the family.
He was among the children inside Plaza Towers when the tornado hit.
"He is not in pain, but in joy with our Lord," the statement said.
"He was greatly loved by all who knew him," the family said. "He never met a stranger. You were always a friend in his eyes. Just last Sunday, his grandfather remarked that Christopher was going to play center for the University of Oklahoma someday."