MOORE — Families of Plaza Towers victims came together Tuesday on the three-month anniversary of the devastating tornado that took the lives of their children.
The families were at First Baptist Church in Moore in support of Shelter Oklahoma Schools, a private organization set up by state Reps. Mark McBride and Jon Echols.
“We’re here today to announce that these families have pledged their support. But not just their support — their work, their spirit, their heart,” Echols said. “They’ve actually done the work to help this organization.”
Echols said after he and McBride were on the scene at Briarwood and Plaza Towers elementary schools the night the tornado hit, seeing the loss of life and the problems at hand made them want to set up Shelter Oklahoma Schools.
The nonprofit organization collects donations with the goal of getting more storm shelters in Oklahoma schools. Its focus is to make schools safer for students when severe weather hits.
Antonia Candelaria, 9, was one of the children killed by the May 20 tornado. Her mother, Brandie Candelaria, said her other daughter, Trinity, who was in fourth grade at the time, also was at the school when the storm hit.
After everything Trinity has been through, seeing all of her friends go through this, getting pulled out of the rubble and not having her sister come home made Brandie want to support Shelter Oklahoma Schools.
“We dropped two little girls off that day and only one came home,” she said. “(A school) is a place where they’re supposed to be safe and feel safe.”
Candelaria said they are also trying to keep other families from experiencing the same loss.
With Trinity going into fifth grade, having a 7-month-old child with another child on the way, Brandie wants to know her kids will be safe.
“If we’re going to keep putting kids into the school district, we want them to be safe,” she said.
Candelaria described Antonia as a “bright light” that “danced to the beat of her own drum.” She also had an infectious smile and was always doing what she could to make people smile, she said.
John Hunt, Norman Chrysler Jeep Dodge spokesman who helped organize Shelter Oklahoma Schools said the project is a huge task they are trying to undertake.
“We are a private solution to a public problem,” Hunt said. “We must protect our children and we must do it ourselves.”
Hunt said they are still in need of a lot of money. Echols said they currently have $2 million ready to spend but they are still looking for innovative ways and innovative solutions to the problem, including help from the legislature and possibly school bonds.
The cost of having a shelter in every Oklahoma school would be about $1 billion. Echols said that number comes from $1,600 per shelter with 400,000 schools in Oklahoma, but it is a price worth paying.
“What happened to these good folks doesn’t need to happen to anyone else,” Hunt said.
Other families, aside from the Candelaria family, that were there Tuesday night included the parents of Sydney Angle, Nick McCabe, JaNae Hornsby, Kyle Davis, Christopher Legg and Emily Conatzer.
Hunt said T-shirts are available for purchase to raise funds for Shelter Oklahoma Schools. Donations can be made online at shelteroklahomaschools.org or by texting SAFETY to 50555.