Video Gives Fresh Account Of 1st Responders Inside Briarwood Elementary

Wednesday, May 21st 2014, 11:00 pm
By: News 9

So many memories have come as Oklahomans look back at the May tornado's devastating tornado aftermath.

Many of the children and teachers at Briarwood elementary school lost everything in the May 20 storm. But some first responders were able to salvage some things amidst all that rubble, including some of the students' most precious possession their backpacks.

A lot of parents and students had little hope anything survived that tragic day. But amid all the rubble they would see flashes of green or blue and pink. And that gave them hope that at least a few backpacks would be salvaged that day.

"They love their backpacks," said Cynthia Lowe, who is a first grade teacher at Briarwood Elementary School.

Lowe knows all too well how important backpacks are to a kid. It's more than a sea of purple pink and blue. It's a reflection of the little kids who carry them.

"My first graders keep everything in their backpacks. It is like a part of home comes to school with them every day, so it's really important that they got those things back after the storm."

Cynthia and her children made it out unscathed after the storm, but she says almost everything was destroyed inside the school, and her classroom.

News 9 obtained an exclusive look from a police camera shows what it was like out there in the days following the storm, and what it was like for the first responders and teachers who were there trying to salvage anything that was left.

"Mostly I was just thinking these kids came to school that day and they had all their stuff with them in their backpacks," said Sgt. John Blumenthal with the Oklahoma City Police Department. "And as we're going through the school we're just finding backpacks all over through the rooms, the rubble and obviously places that they shouldn't be."

Blumenthal was one of the first responders and is on the search and rescue team. He says he still remembers bringing out the backpacks and seeing parents and children going through them.

"The parents were ecstatic they were getting these backpacks back cause it's all they had," said Blumenthal. "I remember one little girl in particular that picked up a pink backpack and was going through it and was so excited that it was hers. And it just kinda broke my heart. I was just thinking she went to school, went through this terrible tornado and survived it. And now all she has is this backpack left."

But Cynthia says finding those treasured items, even if they were tattered and torn, meant the world to everyone involved, especially the students.

"And having those backpacks returned to them, or even if they couldn't salvage anything out of them, just knowing that it was found was a great triumph for them," said Lowe.

Cynthia says she was able to salvage a basket that she kept on her desk from her room.

"That was pretty much the only thing that was left in my room but I did get it back," said Lowe.

Now it is on display in her classroom; a poignant reminder of how far they've come.

"I understand getting something back that was important to you back," she said.

And Lowe says she can't thank the first responders, like Blumenthal, enough for all they did to help them after the storm. Lowe and the rest of the teachers, students and parents are anxious to get back into the new school building. It should be ready to go in the fall.