Around 10:15 on Friday night, Douglas Koon saw on the news that a tornado was headed straight toward his home in Hopkins County, Ky. — and he knew he and his family needed sturdier shelter than their trailer offered.
So he drove his wife, their 4-year-old son and their 2-month-old daughter about eight miles south to his mother-in-law’s house in Dawson Springs. His other son, 11, was already there.
When the family reached the house, they huddled together in the bathroom and covered themselves with couch cushions. The 2-month-old, Oaklynn, still in her car seat, was placed in the bathtub.
For a few minutes, the wind and rain intensified. Then it got quiet — “really quiet,” Koon, 33, told The Washington Post on Tuesday. But the silence didn’t last long: “You could hear this loud trainlike sound just barreling through,” Koon recalled. His ears popped, and the windows began to shatter.
What followed, he said, was “pure turmoil.” He lost sight of his surroundings; he felt his body being thrown in every direction “like a rag doll.”
“You feel like you’re just being beaten by people holding baseball bats — just beating, kicking, stomping on you,” he said.
When Koon came to his senses, he and his wife, Jackie, were lying in the neighbor’s yard, about 100 feet away from his mother-in-law’s bathroom. He and his wife appeared relatively unscathed. But after the wind subsided, he heard his 4-year-old, Dallas, calling for him and saw the bloody gashes on his son’s head. Under a pile of debris, Koon found his 11-year-old son, Bentley, moaning and complaining about an injured leg. His mother-in-law, Sheila Rose, was also trapped under debris, bleeding profusely from her head.
Looking around, Koon saw “nothing but destruction” and people “looking for their loved ones, trying to get their loved ones untrapped.” He said it was “pure chaos.”
Eventually, not far away from his mother-in-law, he found Oaklynn lying in her car seat, crying. In the following hours, the baby appeared to be fine. But days later, the physical trauma Oaklynn suffered as the tornado sucked her out of the house became clear. Doctors could not stop her from bleeding internally, Koon said.
The doctors told Koon his daughter would probably be “brain dead the rest of her life,” he said. So on Monday morning, at Norton Children’s Hospital in Louisville, the Koons decided to take Oaklynn off life support.
“It’s crazy,” Koon said. “You never think you’re going to have to bury your child.”
So far, 2-month-old Oaklynn appears to be the youngest person to have died in Kentucky, where some 74 have been confirmed dead after tornadoes tore through the commonwealth and eight other states Friday night. At least 88 have been confirmed dead altogether, including casualties in Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri and Tennessee.
In Bremen, Ky., Robert “Bobby” Pierce, 72, told The Post he was mourning the death of his 5-month-old great-grandson, Chase Oglesby, whose parents’ trailer was lifted and flung into a tree.
Much attention has focused on the destruction in Mayfield, where houses were leveled, and there were eight reported deaths at a candle factory. But Dawson Springs, a city of about 2,500 people and a median annual household income of $25,000, also experienced intense devastation. At least 12 of the city’s residents were confirmed dead as of Sunday afternoon, the city’s coroner told The Post. That included 86-year-old Ernie Aiken, who died when the tornado lifted his trailer and threw it across the street, The Post reported.
“It’s overwhelming just to think about we have no place really to call home right now,” one Dawson Springs resident told The Post.
On Tuesday morning, Koon and his family were back in the trailer they fled on Friday night. Save for a power outage in the area, the mobile home was untouched by the tornado.
Koon and his wife walked away with bruises and scrapes. Four-year-old Dallas needed staples in his head from the cuts, while 11-year-old Bentley avoided serious injuries. While his mother-in-law did not need extensive medical attention — leaving the hospital with staples in her head — her house was left flattened.
On the Koons’ mind was their daughter’s funeral and her likely burial at a cemetery in Dawson Springs. But for now, they are trying to remain patient. They know they’re not the only ones.
“There’s so many funerals getting done right now,” Koon said. “Who knows when it’s going to be.”