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May 24, 2013

Third-grader left school with minutes to spare

NORMAN — Scott Lewis picked up his son, Zack, from Plaza Towers Elementary School as hail pounded the school Monday afternoon. About five minutes after they left, Lewis said, the monster tornado smashed into the building.

Seven of Zack’s third-grade classmates were killed when the tornado knocked down the school’s walls and ceilings. Others were injured; several remain hospitalized, Lewis said.

“I just thank the Lord that I was able to get him,” Lewis said, “that he wasn’t trapped in there — or worse.”

On Thursday morning, Lewis met with reporters near Eastlake Elementary, 1301 SW 134th St., while his wife, Julie, took Zack to a program inside the school.

Students from Plaza Towers were invited to Eastlake to say their end-of-year goodbyes to teachers and friends. Students from Briarwood Elementary, which also was destroyed by the tornado, reunited at Wayland Bonds Elementary.

Lewis said his family lost their home. They’ve returned to look through the rubble, he said, where they found a box of Zack’s Matchbox cars.

Lewis said his son looked around at the destruction caused by the tornado but didn’t appear upset.

Lewis and Julie have shielded Zack from news about the storm, he said. It’s hard enough for adults to comprehend the devastation, let alone a 9-year-old.

Parents are talking to their children about the loss of life in different ways. On Wednesday evening, Lewis said he and Julie used obituaries to help Zack begin to understand.

“At some point, you have to find a way to deal with it and yet keep them safe,” he said.

They’re also trying to keep Zack’s life as normal as possible.

Events like Thursday’s help. After the tornado, Moore Public Schools canceled classes through the end of the semester. Thursday’s program was meant to give students and parents a chance to see teachers and each other and wrap up the year, Plaza Towers Principal Amy Simpson said.

She said the students, who were happy, set the tone.

“It meant everything,” she said.

A similar program will be hosted later for those who couldn’t attend Thursday’s event.

Carly Ramirez, another Plaza Towers parent, had high praise for the teachers who helped her daughter, Kamrin, 4, and the other children.

She and Kamrin came to Thursday’s program with a homemade thank-you note for her teacher.

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