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May 24, 2013

Substitute teacher saves special education students from tornado

MOORE — When the F-5 tornado did its damage at Plaza Towers Elementary in Moore on Monday, and after the silence had passed, one little boy looked at his teacher and asked where his backpack was.

“I don’t know, but we’ll look for it later,” Joy Hendrix said to  him.

Hendrix, who was substitute teaching the special education students, said that on Thursday, the little guy got a new backpack. In fact, all the students at Plaza Towers, were treated to a celebration to close out the school year on a positive note.

“Another grade school, Eastlake Elementary, hosted our school. They got new backpacks, full of wonderful things. There was a whole big table full of books. There was sacks for each kid with goodies. Last time we saw any parents or kids, it was chaos.”

 A retired banker, who spent 25 years in that industry, Hendrix began substitute teaching this year and has found it to be a complete blessing.

“I like teaching children with special needs,” she said.

Hendrix had just taken her students over to the gymnasium, but they were called back to the main building. When she got back over there, she went to get her phone from the classroom and also took her purse. That purse came in handy as she put it on the floor and let one little boy lay his head on it, while she got over him to protect him.

“We were in the hallway with our heads against the wall, on the east side, and at front of the building,” she said. “In 10 minutes or less, it hit. It was like a big train going right over you. You could feel and hear debris going over you. Then it was silent. I looked up and the ceiling was gone and then I looked to the right and cars were over walls. One landed on the wall and the wall landed on the teachers and children, they had bruises. There were cars in the middle of school.”

 Seven children died at Plaza Towers but were in a different building. The intensity of the storm has Hendrix still processing that so many did survive.

“I believe God was in control. We have one little boy who is very, very hyper and out-of-control, but he just sat there and did everything we told him to do. They all did everything they were suppose to.”

Hendrix has plenty of praise for the teachers of Plaza Towers.

“I think the teachers did an awesome job. They did what they were trained to do, and the kids too. They were all very calm.” As they were trying to get out of the damage zone, Hendrix said she was helping a child up over a wall and a man just happened to be there and started pulling the kids out.

“I still want to do substitute teaching. But I haven’t been able to read the paper or see the pictures of the children that died.”

Michael Harris, of Duncan, said that when they heard the tornado hit the school, he feared one of his best friends was dead. He and Hendrix have been life-long friends.

“She’s like a big sister to me!”

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