With my sister’s family living in Joplin, you can imagine our concern when the massive tornado hit.
I knew where she lived and I knew where St. John’s Hospital was and I heard the tornado was a mile wide.
She lives more than a mile south of the hospital.
But all I could get was an answering machine when I called.
I emailed, but got no reply.
When phone service was restored to the little suburb of Leawood south of the Interstate my sister called to tell me their immediate family was safe, but their son-in-law Brandon Campbell’s brother had been at work in the AT&T Store, across from the Walmart that was devastated. It had collapsed, she told me, and David Campbell had managed to crawl out with broken ribs and maybe a concussion.
I kept asking about his injuries and finally my sister asked me if I would like to talk to him.
That hadn’t occurred to me, but I said, “Sure,” taking his number.
When I called he was helping out a friend. He was in a hole, pretty much all that was left of the home, “just digging through the rubble.
I asked about his injuries. Broken ribs, bruised diaphragm and a pulled knee ligament.
He said there were five employees in the AT&T Store on Rangeline Road, the major north-south shopping corridor in Joplin.
When the warning sirens wailed, they closed the door and had had it locked for fifteen minutes when a truck pulled up. There was debris in the air.
“We ran out and got them to come inside. There were two adults and four kids in the truck,’ Campbell told me.
So, inside the store there were “eleven of us. We went in the men’s bathroom. We made sure everyone was inside. I came in last.”
Campbell “tried to lock the door as soon as he got in” but couldn’t.
“I heard the whole glass storefront blow out,” he continued. “Everyone started praying and screaming calling out to God..
“It was pitch black. I was trying to cover my head. There was a 21-year old named Kelly Newlan-Mishler and another woman, 34, named Sharyl.
“I pulled them both down.
“I was across Sharyl’s legs. Kelly was in a pocket (or hole) close to Sharyl’s head. Kelly was able to get right out after the storm had passed.
Then he heard one wall crash. He felt it fall.
“Then another one.”
“The last thing I remember before waking up was feeling like I was flying, almost like Superman. That kind of motion.”
Then, he remembers “being crushed, blackness with gold dots.”
“When I came to I was laying across (the two women) pinned down by a metal door within the door frame, perfectly encased.”
Sharyl and Logan Pickett were next to him.
“I was face down. Sharyl was to my right nearest the door we started at, Logan to my left and the family was all on the other side of him scattered.
“One person (the mother of the children) was paralyzed (from the waist down).”
“The family (with the kids) we let into the building we found out the children were all adopted—special needs kids.”
“Sean got thrown out from the A&T Store through two stores into the payday loan store on the end. He couldn’t get out with his shoes on. He had to wiggle out of his shoes.
“Kelly watched the sky. Everything blew. She saw everything.
“Kelly was able to get right out after the storm had passed.
“We were thinking at the time that the AT&T Store was the only place that got destroyed,” so they sent Sean Meador and Kelly for help.
“After forty-five minutes Kelly and Sean had (made it) to Neosho and found no one who could help.
“Sean was running down the street getting hit by hail.
“I was telling Sharyl she was doing quite a good job (of keeping calm). After twenty minutes I realized she wasn’t just being calm. She was dead.
“I couldn’t move at all. I just rolled over and tried to go to sleep for maybe twenty minutes.
“Logan finally got to a position where he had to move a toilet. The parents of the children thought the toilet was holding up the roof. It took fifteen minutes trying to calm them down.
“He was moving the toilet to get out. He knew there was space under the toilet (so it couldn’t be holding up the roof).
“I raised the door, pulling myself across the floor.
“At 5:35 I sent a text message to my wife.”
The message was garbled, asking her to call the police and that the building had collapsed.
But the word “collapsed” came out something like “calypso,” an amusement park.
“We were supposed to do team building for AT&T. She though the storm had passed and I had gone onto play.”
Discussing the experience, Campbell told of going through stages.
“At first, you’re pretty scared.
“Oh, my gosh. I’m alive. You’re excited.
“No one comes back. You get scared again.
Then, he “turned on music, the Bellamy Brothers’ ‘He’s an old hippie.”
After that, he listened to Hank Williams, Jr.’s “Forged by Fire.” He explained it is about the military, living through hell, praying to God that you’ll come out alive.
Then the phone died.
The tornado was three blocks on both sides of Campbell’s store at Rangeline Road. It went twelve blocks from 15th to 26th.
“I’m standing down in a hold on 24th. I can see past 32nd. “
He said he could see both hospitals and that wasn’t possible before the tornado.
Campbell commented on the comradeship’s being “absolutely incredible. There’s free food all over town,” he observed as an example.
He wrote me later of the other injuries to the family he and his friend led to relative safety:
- Father sprained right wrist and terrible black eye
- Youngest daughter – staples in knee
- Middle daughter shattered pelvis
- Oldest internal bruising
- Son some scrapes and bruises
= = = = =
Photos provided by David Campbell.
The woman who died in the store is Sharyl Anyssa San-Miguel-Nelson. Here is a tribute to her.
This article about the destroyed churches my sister and brother-in-law attend might also be of interest.