Families salvage bits of mementos of victims' lives

  • Families-salvage-bits-of-mementos-of-victims-lives

  • MILLBURY, Ohio - The Walters family retired Saturday evening, worn out from a barbecue that day and a church sleepover the night before.

    Mary Walters likely prayed with her two young children, Maddison, 7, and Hayden, 4, before bedtime, as she did every night.

    They planned to attend a 9 a.m. church service the next morning.

    As the Walters family slept, Mrs. Walters' sister, Amy Sigler, watched news reports of violent thunderstorms moving across northwest Ohio.

    Mrs. Sigler lives in nearby Northwood and tried to call her sister to warn her. She knew the family was fast asleep, and the weather was headed right for them.

    "The phone just rang and rang," she said yesterday morning. "I knew as soon as it hit and she didn't call that something was wrong."

    Mrs. Walters, 36, and Hayden died late Saturday night when a tornado touched down and ripped the second story off their Millbury home. The family members were likely sucked out of their bedrooms and thrown. Neighbors and emergency workers found them lying outside.

    Ryan Walters, 37, the father, and Maddison survived and were recovering yesterday at Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center in Toledo, where they were listed in critical and serious condition.

    A station was set up inside the unscathed St. Peter's United Church of Christ in Millbury, where belongings of the victims were being sorted out in boxes marked with their families' names.
    A station was set up inside the unscathed St. Peter's United Church of Christ in Millbury, where belongings of the victims were being sorted out in boxes marked with their families' names.

    Five people died after at least one tornado touched down and tore destruction across an 8-mile swath in Wood and Ottawa counties.

    Yesterday, family members and friends stood amid piles of rubble that once were homes and started the job in earnest of cleaning up, and of remembering.

    Mrs. Sigler said Hayden loved Spider-Man and was excited about the upcoming movie release of Toy Story 3. He loved his father's running races and would sometimes jog along with him on the sidelines during a 10K race or other community run, Mrs. Sigler said.

    "Hayden was extremely spunky. He loved his mama more than life. There are a lot of memories of him running on the sidelines of races," she said.

    She remembered her sister yesterday as "obsessive compulsive with the cleaning" but someone who "kept a balance in the home. She kept a structure," she said. "Mary was the most amazing mother and wife. If I could be half the mother and wife. ..."

    Mrs. Sigler along with several dozen family and church members helped to clean debris from the Walters residence, where only the foundation was left.

    The group collected items and piled up the construction material. At one point, about 40 people at the site formed a circle and prayed together.

    Along the street in Millbury yesterday, the private lives of the dead and displaced were strewn along sidewalks and roads and over fields for miles around.

    Several homes were literally lifted off their foundations and twisted and torn to bits. Sheltered in their basements, other families escaped tragedy as the winds, up to 165 hour, swiped away the structures from right over their heads.

    Crews of volunteers picked through surrounding fields dotted with debris as they looked for and grabbed photos, financial statements, wedding albums, even a military uniform - the bits and pieces of lives violently and forever changed in just a few short moments Saturday night.

    A type of sorting station was formed inside St. Peter's United Church of Christ at Cherry and Main streets, untouched and just outside the tornado's reach.

    Several cardboard boxes with family names written on them in ballpoint pen held the muddied and tattered photos and documents. They were brought in throughout the day and sorted by volunteers and acquaintances who might recognize a neighbor's face in a photo or a name on a document. A central table held all the unmatched items.

    There was a box for the Walters family and another for the family of Ted Kranz, 46, of Case Road.

    Mr. Kranz died after he secured his family in a basement and went back upstairs to check on a generator running sump pumps. Authorities said part of the house fell on him. Mr. Kranz's daughter, Katie, is the valedictorian of Lake High School's graduating class this year.

    Kathy Hammitt, a student pastor in her 50s, died as she was driving along State Rt. 795 on her way back from visiting her husband at a nearby hospital. He had recently suffered a stroke, and she and her daughters were in separate cars headed home when the tornado struck.

    Mrs. Hammitt's vehicle was picked up by the twister. Her grown daughters, following behind, were able to stop their vehicle but could only watch helplessly as it took their mother away. Authorities said Mrs. Hammitt died after she was hit by debris.

    The daughters' vehicle also was destroyed by the tornado, but they suffered only minor cuts and bruises.

    Mrs. Hammitt was a student pastor in the United Methodist Church, serving at North Dover Church in Wauseon, according to Lisa Streight, director of communications for the denomination's West Ohio Conference.

    Mrs. Hammitt was working toward opening a "free store" to give away clothes to the needy in the Wauseon area. She also met recently with the district's Hispanic ministry coordinator to see how she and her church could do more to help Spanish-speaking people.

    The ministry was a second career for her. She was in the program about two years, working toward ordination.

    Mrs. Hammitt had been going to school, pastoring a church, and caring for her husband, Norman, who had been a police officer before becoming disabled.

    Down Route 795 from where Mrs. Hammitt was killed, a young couple tried to escape the tornado in their minivan.

    Bailey Bowman, 20, a mother of one, was killed after she was picked up by the tornado outside the Lake Township police building.

    Her boyfriend, 20-year-old Gerald Lathrop, who is also the father of her child, was driving. He was also hurled by the high winds and slammed against the brick wall of the township building. He fell to the ground between two large landscaping boulders. The tornado ripped apart the building, but the boulders protected him from a falling wall, he told The Blade yesterday at his father's Walbridge home.

    The couple, who lived together with their 2-year-old son, worked 12 hours Saturday at the Old West End festival. He works for a company that provides inflatable devices at fairs and festivals.

    He promised Miss Bowman a dinner at Applebee's restaurant. But while eating, they saw news reports of bad weather and Ms. Bowman worried about their son, who was with her father. She finally reached her father, who said her son was fine and that the two of them should head to Walbridge, where Mr. Lathrop's father lived.

    As they drove, Ms. Bowman looked to out of her side window and screamed. They saw the tornado pick up trains.

    He veered toward the police station to try and find shelter.

    "I went through the grass and we pulled up trying to get to the door. Township cars started flying around. I jumped out of the car, and yelled, 'Run for your life.'•"

    Miss Bowman opened the minivan door and it was immediately ripped off, he said. Mr. Lathrop was picked up by the twisting wind, and he felt pressure, then he was spat out and slammed into the wall.

    "I crawled out from under the debris," he said. "I started yelling, Bailey, Bailey. I heard nothing."

    Police found her near the minivan, but wouldn't let him see her for an hour and half until her father could identify the body. Police said she might have been someone else, picked up by the wind and brought there. They had to be sure.

    "I miss her," he said yesterday as he sat in father's front yard. "I want her to be here for my son. She was such a loving girl."

    Staff writer David Yonke contributed to this report.

    Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick at:


    or 419-724-6134.