A few hours after a massive tornado tore through the Oklahoma City area, ravaging neighborhoods and two elementary schools and killing at least 51 people, Edie Cordray sent an urgent message to members of her church in nearby Norman.
“Please pray for my best friend,” she wrote.
The friend, Becky Jo Evans, teaches first grade at Plaza Towers Elementary School, which took a direct hit. Evans and her students were missing, Cordray wrote.
Cordray was at her church, where she works as a day-care teacher, when the tornado hit with 200-mph winds.
Cordray and Evans have been best friends for more than six years, Cordray said. “She’s my life. She’s my family.”
“The minute I heard she was missing, I didn’t want to talk to anyone,” she said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “I was going to drive from Moore” to try to find Evans.
Her pastor, Chad Bartlett, consoled her and kept her from driving.
“They’re going to get her,” Bartlett could be heard on the phone telling Cordray. “She’s going to be all right. Don’t drive. Don’t go up there.”
Just after 6 p.m., Cordray received a text message: Evans had been found. But her students had not.
By Monday evening, Cordray sounded happy. She had talked with Evans on the phone and was driving to Oklahoma City to see her.
Evans got some of her students into a bathroom, Cordray said she told her. The walls started falling in on them, so she jumped on top of them, shielding them with her body. After the storm had passed, Evans pulled children from the destroyed building. But she still doesn’t know how many of them survived.
“There’s still a lot of confusion on where the kids are,” Cordray said. When Cordray talked to Evans on the phone, Cordray said she told her she was a hero and could not wait to hug her.
“After I knew she was OK, I knew I was not going to go to bed until I saw her and hugged her,” Cordray told The Times.
Cordray was watching children herself at the day-care center in Norman, and herded them into a bathroom too. They were unscathed.
But Cordray saw that the storm was heading toward Evans’ school and kept sending her text messages. She became frantic when the text messages didn’t go through.
Cordray herself had been through the May 3, 1999, tornado, which packed 300-mph winds and killed 44 people. She couldn’t help thinking back on the terror of that day. She was 12 then and at a Girl Scouts meeting in Moore. She remembers seeing destruction and flattened houses and cars as she was being driven home after the storm.
“You can hear it, and you’re scared, but when you come out and you see all the destruction around you, there aren’t words to explain.”