A fourth-grader has been confirmed among the 23 people killed by a series of massive tornados that struck Alabama over the weekend. Taylor Thornton, who was a student at Auburn’s Lee-Scott Academy, died after the enormous twister struck her family home in Beauregard, Lee County.
School officials announced the tragic death in a Facebook post and also shared a GoFundMe campaign which has been set up to help the family with finances at this difficult time.
“With sadness this morning, we share that Taylor Thornton, a 4th grader at Lee-Scott Academy, was welcomed into the arms of Jesus as the result of the severe weather event in Lee County yesterday,” the Christian school wrote. “Our hearts at Lee-Scott Academy are broken this morning. Please pray for the Thornton family, our students, faculty, and staff during this difficult time.”
— Reed Timmer (@ReedTimmerAccu) March 4, 2019
Family friend Kaitlyn Willing, who set up the GoFundMe, called Taylor “an amazing example of a child of God.”
“She brought so much joy to all that knew her,” Willing added. “She was loved dearly and will forever be missed.”
Addressing Taylor’s parents, Ashley and David, Willing wrote, “You raised an amazing daughter that fulfilled her purpose on this earth and it now with her creator. This community loves you both, and baby McCrae so much and will continue to walk through this by your side.”
For those who don’t have the means to donate, Willing requested that they “please fervently pray for this precious family.”
So far, the campaign has raised over $30,000.
Many have posted messages of support and condolence following the tragic news.
“My heart is broken for this huge loss to this family,” one person noted on Facebook. “My prayer would be that you would feel the arms of Jesus surrounding you.”
“She had a huge life at 10 years old,” Taylor’s uncle, James Thornton, told Reuters. “She had a footprint bigger than most people who are 70, 80, 90 years old.”
Tragically, two other children have been confirmed among the dead. Family members identified 6-year-old AJ Hernandez Jr. as one of the child victims. On social media, his aunt called him “a precious little man,” according to CBS News.
Hunt for survivors
Authorities continue to scour the affected areas for any sign of life. According to WRBL-TV, search and rescue teams have dispatched heat-seeking drones in a bid to locate any who might be trapped amongst the debris.
“We’ve still got people being pulled out of rubble,” Lee County Coroner Bill Harris told AL.com on Sunday. “We’re going to be here all night.”
Yesterday, Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones noted that “dozens” were still missing.
“The search teams have worked the areas of the most significant damage,” Jones said. “I am pleased to report we have not recovered any further victims from the areas that we have initially searched. But I want to offer a caveat with that, that we have not completed our searches.”
The death toll in Alabama has doubled the total amount of people killed by tornadoes during the entirety of last year. In 2018, the lethal weather phenomenon killed 10 people across the U.S.
In Lee County, where the main storm was located, the mile-wide tornado reached an EF-4 classification with speeds of 170 mph. National Weather Service Meteorologist Chris Darden called it a “monster.”
Edward Graham, who on the ground in Lee County with the humanitarian relief organization, Samaritan’s Purse, told Faithwire that the town of Begeuard, the storm’s epicenter, was “so bad that we couldn’t even get our teams in there.”
“Unless you had a badge or you were a first responder, you weren’t allowed in there because they were still doing search and rescue,” Graham added.
Community fund set up
In the wake of such staggering devastation, the local communities are pulling together to help each other out through a shared recovery fund.
Community Foundation of East Alabama has set up the Long Term Recovery Fund to help residents recover from the disaster. Samaritan’s Purse and The Red Cross has set also set up a shelter at Opelika’s Providence Baptist Church to help those in need.
“Alabama families are hurting and in need this morning after these deadly and destructive tornadoes,” said Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse. “We are on the ground providing all the help we can while reminding families that there is still hope. Please pray for families impacted and for first responders who continue to search for people who are still missing.”
You can sign up to volunteer with Samaritans Purse by heading here.