Published May 24, 2013
MOORE, Okla. – One loved unicorns. Another, nicknamed "ladybug," sang country songs. Another dreamed of one day owning a pontoon boat.
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 victims' 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."
Megan Futrell, 29, and Case Futrell, 3 months.
Futrell had picked up young Case from a babysitter as the storm approached Moore. She eventually took shelter in a nearby convenience store at the suggestion of her husband, according to a relative.
Both died when the EF5 tornado destroyed the building as the two tried to ride out the storm in the store's walk-in freezer.
Futrell was a doting mother, active in the Little League association where another son played, her cousin, Amy Pulliam, told The Oklahoman.
"She was my sister I never had," Pulliam said. "It's hard, it's hard, it's hard. But there's nothing you can do now."
Futrell's husband, Cody, who told his wife to seek shelter inside the store, was overcome with grief, Pulliam said.
"As soon as the tornado went over he just took off running," she said. "When he made it as far as Little River Park he saw there was nothing" left of the store.
Antonia Candelaria, 9
Antonia loved to sing. She knew the words to most of the songs on the country radio station her family frequently had on and she would sing along, bringing joy to the house.
In an obituary, the family remembered the "gentle and loving spirit" of a girl with a sweet nickname, "ladybug," that complimented those of her two sisters, who are affectionately called "butterfly" and "dragonfly."
The third-grader recently auditioned to sing in a talent show scheduled for the last day of school at Plaza Towers Elementary. The girl died at the school with seven other children, including her best friend and next door neighbor, Emily Conatzer.
"Tonie always danced, not walked, to the beat of her own drum," the family wrote in her obit. "And she banged her drum very well. She would bang that drum so loud that others could not help but to start dancing to her beat as well."
Emily Conatzer, 9
Emily loved unicorns, Lady Gaga and dreamed of one day traveling to Paris to become a fashion designer.
The third-grader died at Plaza Towers Elementary with seven other children, including her best friend Antonia Candelaria.
Emily "rode up to heaven on a unicorn traveling on a path of love leaving Moore," her family wrote in her obituary.
She was a beautiful princess, her family wrote, with a love for "all things girly."
A mother to a cat named Sabbath that wandered into her family's home one day, Emily was also a gifted dancer who could sing "Time Warp" in its entirety.
Nicolas McCabe, 9
Nicolas was a vibrant kid who loved the water and one day dreamed of owning his own pontoon boat.
His parents, Scott and Stacey, remembered their son was born just outside the couple's home because he "came so quickly that (they) couldn't even make it to the hospital," according to his obituary.
Nicolas was smart and had an "ornery grin," his parents wrote.
He loved going to the lake, playing with Legos and listening to country music. Nicolas' parents said their son "adored" his family and all the friends he made at Plaza Towers. Emily Conatzer and Sydney Angle were his classmates at school.
"Though his years weren't many, the memories and impressions he left on those he came into contact with is sure to endure forever," his parents wrote.
Sydney Angle, 9
Sydney had a passion for softball. She had two goals in her sport, win MVP and pitch.
She recently accomplished both — collecting the most valuable title earlier this month and pitching in a tournament last weekend.
"She had a smile that would light up; always had a smile. She was a wonderful young lady," family friend Laura Schneider told television station Fox 6 in Milwaukee. Sydney's parents were originally from Wisconsin.
Sydney's softball coach, Landon McNeill, called the kid "a pickle."
"Sydney was real quirky," McNeill said. "She could be anywhere and have fun doing it."
Shannon Quick, 40
Quick spent a lot of time watching her sons' baseball games. She loved cooking and was known for putting together a tasty Crock-Pot dinner for her family.
On Monday, she had picked up her 8-year-old Jackson and 13-year-old son Tanner from school early because the family was getting ready to go on a vacation to Virginia.
But an approaching tornado forced her to huddle in the closet of their home near Briarwood Elementary School with her children, mother and their dog, Luke. Quick was killed, and the dog had to be put to sleep because of the injuries.
Jackson was hospitalized with severe leg and pelvic injuries. Tanner escaped the tornado with scrapes and bruises. Her mother, Joy Waldroop, was taken to a hospital with a broken heel and a hole in her right arm.
"I couldn't ask for a better daughter," Waldroop, 61, told The Oklahoman newspaper, from the hospital. "She cared for her family."
Shannon Quick had been married to Mike Quick since 1995.
Tewauna Robinson, 45
Robinson's daughter, Angeletta Santiago, was planning on moving from St. Louis to the Oklahoma City area to be closer to her mom because she was suffering several health issues.
She planned to leave Tuesday morning.
A day earlier, Robinson called her daughter to tell her that the tornado had touched down and she was going to take cover in her closet. It was around 2:30 p.m. Monday.
The brief conversation ended when Robinson told her daughter, "I love you," and then hung up, news station KSDK of St. Louis reported.
After the storm hit, Santiago frantically tried to get information about her mother, taking to Facebook to see if she could find any piece of helpful information.
Robinson's house was destroyed. It was located near the Plaza Towers Elementary School, which also was ravaged by the storm.
Hemant Bhonde, 65
Bhonde was a kind man who made friends easily and would do anything to help anybody out.
He took refuge from the storm with his wife, Jerrie. The couple waited inside the shower, clinging to each other as the tornado destroyed the couple's home.
Jerrie Bhonde remembers that suddenly, the couple's bathroom disappeared.
"Walls were hitting me. I was knocked on the floor," she told NBC News from her hospital bed, where she was recovering from her injuries.
The couple's daughter, Geeta, described her father as "a generous, caring man."
"Funny, silly, I mean, give you the shirt off his back, literally. The best guy you'll ever meet," Geeta told the news station.
Randy Smith, 39
Smith enjoyed riding his motorcycle, playing video games and watching movies with his son, according to his obituary.
He attended U.S. Grant High School in Oklahoma City and was an electrician, living in Moore.
Survivors include his son, parents, two sisters, a brother and a grandfather.
Jeany Neely, 38
Neely was always available to those in need.
"Jeany was a great loving caring mother whose first love was her two sons," her obituary said. "She also had a heart for animals and she loved every stray dog she ever met."
Neely was a nurse at Midwest City Nursing Center and had spent most of her career working in the health care industry and was also described as athletic and a person who enjoyed working out.
Cindy Plumley, 49
Plumley's family was her life.
A licensed nurse, she worked at a veterans center in nearby Norman.
"She enjoyed spending every moment she had with her children and grandchildren," her family wrote in her obituary.
Deanna Ward, 70.
Ward was described by her daughter, Shelly Irvin, as the "best mom in the world."
She died in Monday's storm in the closet of her home about a block from Plaza Elementary School while holding hands with her son.
Her son survived.
Ward was a retired nurse and was frail, and Irvin told The Oklahoman her son did not have enough time to get their mother into a car and leave the area.
"My brother and I have been through a lot of struggles and she never gave up on us. She was always there," Irvin told the newspaper.
Rick Jones, 54
Jones was a well-liked postal worker and member of the Oklahoma City Area Local, according to the American Postal Workers Union.
"The devastation suffered by the community is almost too much to bear," Human Relations Director Sue Carney said. "At last count, at least 12 postal employees lost everything."
The homes of nine APWU members were destroyed, and dozens more had significant damage, Carney said.