The Norman Transcript

May 27, 2013

Moore survivors stand strong

By Jessica Bruha
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Families clung to each other, prayed together, sang together and shed tears together Sunday night during “Oklahoma Strong: Coming Together In Faith” at First Baptist Church in Moore.

Thousands of people attended the memorial service that was put together by the governor’s office and led by Gov. Mary Fallin.

As the event was broadcast live, the images stuck in someone’s mind at the end of the night may not have been the aftermath of the May tornadoes but rather those moments captured on camera of everyone in the church holding their hands to join as one to sing. Or maybe two people grasping hands and lifting them up as a sign of being “Oklahoma strong.”

“Our spirits have been shaken this week and our hearts have been broken, but our resolve is strong and we will rise again. In the midst of human tragedy, we see the best of Oklahoma come forth,” Fallin said.

The governor said it has been said that a person’s character is defined by how a person handles life’s troubles. Today, and this week, we have seen the character of Oklahoma through its resilience, strength, courage, love compassion, ability to heal and recover, she said.

“Oklahoma will be Oklahoma strong. We’ve seen it time and time again. My fellow Oklahomans, stay strong during these challenging times,” Fallin said.

One of the most emotional performances on Sunday could debatably have been that of “The Oklahoma Strong Children’s Choir,” which was comprised of Moore elementary students who survived the devastating storm.

The children got a standing ovation before and after their performance of “Jesus Loves Me,” with parents, teachers citizens and dignitaries applauding long and loud.

First-grade Briarwood Elementary teacher Waynel Mayes told her story of what she and her class went through May 20.

When Mayes saw what was coming for them after watching a live feed on another teacher’s iPad, she said she told the children they were going to play a game, lined their desks together to form a tunnel and grabbed musical instruments.

As the storm could be heard ravaging the building, Mayes said she sang louder and louder as children cried and screamed. After a while, everything turned black and then it stopped.

Mayes began to call out the children’s names one by one, and one by one, they all answered. She then told them a real live hero was coming and the crowd laughed as she said one of the kids asked, “You mean KD (Kevin Durant)?”

“I said, ‘Well, maybe not KD. Maybe a fireman or policeman.’ And I said, ‘But maybe we’ll get to see KD out of it,’” Mayes said.

Then she told the children when the hero comes, they had to use their musical instruments so they could hear them to get out.

“I just kept telling them how proud I was of them because they had listened and they had followed directions and we were here. And then someone said, ‘Hello,’ and they started banging the desks and calling, ‘We’re here, we’re here,’ in the loudest voices you have ever heard,” she said.

Mayes said a man was able to move some of the debris and create a hole big enough for them to get out. When they were all out, Mayes saw the parents and people from the community who had rushed to the school to help them.

“We’re so glad to see all of them,” she said.

“Our strength does not come from our possessions, but our strength is the kind of strength that matters. It’s the strength of the spirit of Oklahoma that is alive and well in our state,” Fallin said in closing remarks.

The Oklahoma Strong Community Choir also performed Sunday night. The choir was comprised of choir members from the communities impacted by last week’s tornadoes.

Some special guests throughout the night included country singer Kellie Coffey from Moore, Christian artist Dennis Jarnigan from Oklahoma, The Ambassadors’ Concert Choir, and Rabbi Vered Harris and Archbishop Paul Coakley.

While Jarnigan performed, he said, as a fellow Oklahoman, when one of us hurts, all of us hurt. And while we all may not have gone through the tornado personally, it affects us all.

“We can be victimized, but we do not remain victims,” Jarnigan said.

Jessica Bruha