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Memorial service offers prayers, solace, stories of heroism after tornado
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Memorial service offers prayers, solace, stories of heroism after tornado

Memorial service offers prayers, solace, stories of heroism after tornado
Photo Credit: Russell Mills

Memorial service offers prayers, solace, stories of heroism after tornado

Tears, prayers, laughter and applause blended into an emotional evening for many who attended a special memorial service for victims of the tornado that ravaged Moore and south Oklahoma City a week ago today.

The service, entitled "Oklahoma Strong: Coming Together in Faith," was organized by Gov. Mary Fallin personally, and she served as emcee for the event.

A large gospel choir, which included the Ambassador Choir and Orchestra and the Community Choir, a blend of church choirs from a number of congregations, performed spirituals which brought many to tears, as did many of the speakers.

The highlight for many in attendance was an appearance by a number of students from Briarwood Elementary School, one of two schools destroyed by the massive EF5 tornado which also destroyed a hospital, approximately 1,200 homes, and dozens of businesses.

The twister killed 24, including seven children at the Plaza Towers Elementary School only blocks away from Briarwood, but amazingly all the children in the latter school survived.

Briarwood teacher Waynel Mayes spoke for several minutes, telling the story of how she reacted when she heard the tornado was coming, and knew it was potentially deadly.

"We had practiced tornado drills many times and we knew what to do," she said, but when she saw the size of the storm on a fellow teacher's iPad, she knew standard tornado drill practices would not suffice.

"I turned around and looked at my room, and I didn't know quite what to do, but I knew I had to do something more than I had ever practiced before."

She told the children to push their desks up against the wall and get under them, that they were "going to play a game," because she didn't want to scare them.

Then, they began to sing -- partly because she could hear the tornado coming and wanted to drown out the sound.

"Soon, one of my children asked if we could sing 'Jesus Loves Me,'" she said.

That what they were singing as the tornado struck.

Sunday night, the Briarwood students sang it again, and received a standing ovation, as did Ms. Waynes.

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