Four children, including a 6-year-old boy ripped from his father’s arms, were among the 23 victims of Sunday’s deadly tornado that tore through Western Alabama, according to Lee County officials.
The names and ages of victims were released at a news conference Tuesday held by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and local law enforcement officials.
Seven victims are connected to the same family through marriage, officials said. “Just keep those families in your prayers,” Lee County Coroner Bill Harris said. “It’s a tragic situation.”
The EF-4 tornado with winds of 170 mph cut through a nearly one-mile-wide path that stretched over at least 24 miles through the small town of Beauregard, Alabama, near the border with Georgia. Officials now believe the overall track of tornadoes Sunday extended 70 miles across the two states.
Armando ‘A.J.’ Hernandez, 6
The youngest fatality was 6-year-old Armando “A.J.” Hernandez, whose mother Kayla Melton called the “sweetest little boy.” Hernandez sang in his first-grade class musical just two days before the tornado.
Opelika Fire Chief Byron Prather Jr. said Melton, the boy’s mother, rushed to the scene Sunday in distress.
“She just said her child was swept from the father’s arms,” Prather said. “A mother’s love for her child. How do you tell a mom that she can’t go look for her child? She went and tried to find her child, like everybody else.”
Taylor Thornton, 10
Fourth-grade student Taylor Thornton’s death was reported on the Facebook page of Lee-Scott Academy in Auburn, Alabama, a Christian school that she attended.
The school said Taylor “was welcomed into the arms of Jesus as the result of the severe weather event in Lee County yesterday.”
The school held a community-wide prayer Tuesday, and loved ones have created a GoFundMe Page to help cover funeral costs. More than $32,000 has already been raised, surpassing the $15,000 goal.
Sheila Creech and Marshall Lynn Grimes, both 59
Sheila Creech and Marshall Lynn Grimes, a recently engaged couple, were camping Sunday when the tornado hit Beauregard.
“I guess they maybe didn’t hear the sirens, or if they did it was too late for them to get anywhere safe,” said Desteni Clifton, Creech’s granddaughter.
“We were very, very shocked to hear the whole thing happened,” Clifton said.
Creech, a resident of Panama City, Florida, had survived Hurricane Michael this fall, although the roof of her apartment was ripped off. Creech found refuge in Beauregard, where she rekindled her relationship with Grimes. The two had married young and produced two children , but the relationship later fell apart.
Also injured in the tornado was Grimes’ 11-year-old daughter, whose legs were broken. Thornton, who died, was part of the camping group as well.
Vicki Braswell, 69
Vicki Braswell, 69, was killed when the wall of a mobile home collapsed on her as she and her family sheltered in their mobile home in one of the hardest-hit areas.
Braswell, her daughter and granddaughter took shelter beneath a mattress in their double-wide trailer while other family members huddled nearby.
“We heard it coming but by the time we knew what it was, it hit us. That’s when all hell broke loose,” said Steve Whatley, Braswell’s son-in-law. “It picked us up and dumped us back down 50 feet away.”
Whatley’s wife was still hospitalized Monday with multiple injuries. Family friend Jordan Miller, 17, grabbed a chainsaw and cut the wall apart to free the trapped women.
Seven victims from same family
Three of the victims, Eric Jamal Stenson, 38, Florel Tate Stenson, 63 and Henry Lewis Stenson, 65, were connected by marriage to four other victims: James Henry Tate, 86, Maggie Delight Robinson, 57, Raymond Robinson Jr., 63, and 62-year-old Tresia Robinson.
Each were killed when the tornado struck the home they sheltered in.
Beauregard tornado victims
Armando “A.J.” Hernandez, 6
Charlotte Ann Miller, 59
David Dean, 53
Emmanuiel Jones, 53
Eric Jamal Stenson, 38
Felicia Woodall, 22
Florel Tate Stenson, 63
Henry Lewis Stenson, 65
Irma Gomez-Moran, 41
James Henry Tate, 86
Jimmy Lee Jones, 89
Jonathan Marquez Bowen, 9
Maggie Delight Robinson, 57
Mamie Roberts Koon, 68
Marshall Lynn Grimes, 59
Mary Louise Jones, 83
Mykala Waldon, 8
Raymond Robinson Jr., 63
Ryan Pence, 22
Sheila Creech, 59
Taylor Thornton, 10
Tresia Robinson, 62
Vicki Braswell, 69
Contributing: Staff writers Jorge L. Ortiz and Trevor Hughes and The Associated Press
Reach Joey Garrison at email@example.com and on Twitter @joeygarrison.
Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/03/05/alabama-tornado-2019-a-j-hernandez-among-youngest-victims-23-dead/3065078002/