Briarwood Elementary Teacher Reflects One Year After Tornado

Tuesday, May 20th 2014, 6:44 pm
By: News 9

News 9's Adrianna Iwasinski caught up with one of the teachers who was trapped in the rubble with her students about how they made it through that horrible day.

"That's my room," said Leesa Kniffen, who survived the tornado that hit Briarwood May 20th, 2013. "We are underneath all of that stuff."

The pictures on her phone tell the story. It was taken just hours after the May 20th tornado tore through neighborhood where Briarwood Elementary school once stood.

"It's unbelievable to me. I am still just, how in the world how in the world did we come out of that." said Kniffen."It's amazing to think you were in that little hole and you survived it."

"I found a pile that didn't have anybody there and started yelling search and rescue," said Sgt. John Blumenthal with the Oklahoma City Police Department. "And I actually got 18 children and 2 adults out from under the rubble that day."

Sgt . Blumenthal is an officer with the state's search and rescue team who found Kniffen and all of her 1st grade students that day. He also helped rescue a teacher aide who's leg was impaled by the leg of a table in the classroom.

"Once I saw how bad miss Haley's leg was, I knew I had to really concentrate on her," he said.

But Lisa says all she remembers is trying to keep her kids calm.

"My kids were all along the wall and the lights were going off and on," said Kniffen. "But something said to me desks! Desks just came into my head."

Kniffen says she pushed all those desks up against the wall where her kids were, creating a pocket of protection for all of them. She is convinced it saved their lives.

"I remember just praying out loud God let it pass, God let it pass," remembered Kniffen. "Put your hand on us, protect us."

Once the tornado had passed, the new concern was getting out without getting hurt. You see, the classroom had caved in around them. And water and gas was everywhere.

"I was flat on my back with the wall right there," said Kniffen. "I could not move!"

But within minutes help came. One by one, everyone crawled out. Sgt. Blumenthal still can't believe everyone made it out alive. He just hopes it never happens again.

"I'm very glad we were there to help them - and to make sure they went home to their families," said Sgt. Blumenthal.

Kniffen says she is just grateful for everyone who helped them in the days and weeks after the storm. She says everything they went through truly renews her faith in mankind.