As their mobile home shook and shuddered, Adreian Mays and his sister, Lawansa Perry, looked desperately for a safe place to put Perry’s infant granddaughter. They laid her inside the washing machine, two family members said.
And it worked. Mays and Perry saved the baby — and all the children in their home — from Sunday’s murderous winds. But Mays and Perry could not save themselves.
The siblings were among the seven people killed by the storm that wiped out 30 trailers in the Sunrise Acres Mobile Home Park early Sunday morning. The identities of nearly all of Sunday's dead have been released. And so the extraordinary destruction visited on Adel is not a story of numbers and structures but a story of people — some living in desperation over the past, some in anticipation of the future — who died suddenly and violently in the dark.
The dead were ages 19 to 62. Six of the seven died beside loved ones, people they were linked to in life and now will be forever linked to in death.
Adreian Mays, 38, and Lawansa Perry, 41
Perry was a generous woman who let her brother stay with her on weekends, said their mother Ann Mays. He was helping people clean up their yards and washing cars at a car dealership. People called him Alfalfa.
“He loves his family,” said his mother. “Everybody he sees he hugs them.”
His sister worked in home health care, helping seniors and people who couldn’t help themselves. She loved to cook.
She had been there about three years and had three girls and a boy. As many as eight people, children and adults, were in the trailer when the storm hit.
Aretha Allen, 61, an aunt, got the call at about 4 a.m. Sunday. She rushed over from nearby Sparks to find ambulances and firetrucks and wrecked trailers everywhere.
“It was just chaos,” she said.
After first light, authorities called Ann Mays to come in and identify the bodies.
Mays just kept saying, “Lord, Lord, Lord.”
Now the family is planning a double funeral on Saturday.
Some of the children were hurt. One girl, about 8 years old, broke a leg. A 6-year-old girl suffered some head trauma. A 20-year-old man has a broken hand and cuts on his face, Ann Mays said.
She is still praising God.
“I don’t ask why he did it,” she said. “He took the ones he wanted. He could have taken them all.”
Mary Cantrell, 62, and Jamie Cantrell Walters, 33
The mother, Mary, and the daughter, Jamie, lived together.
They were both night owls and were baking a cake when the storm struck.
Both had gone through hard times, but things seemed to be turning around, said Kellie Cantrell, Mary’s daughter, Jamie’s sister.
Kellie was on the phone with her mother less than an hour before the tornado hit.
“Mama, the storm is coming,” she said.
Her mother quoted something from the Bible and said they would be OK.
“They were happy. They always lived together,” said Kellie Cantrell, who lives in Sylvester.
Mary Cantrell had health problems and was living on disability. Jamie Cantrell had her own troubles, including difficulty holding a job and a separation about a year ago that left her depressed, Kellie said. But Mary was imparting her faith to her daughter, and things were looking up.
“She was getting on the right path,” her sister said. “In the past month she had a better look about her.”
She added, “They went through everything together. And they ended up passing away together.”
Amanda Rowe, 41, and Joe Deskins, 36
“I’m just so glad she wasn’t alone,” said Debra Tinsley-Powell, the sister of Amanda Rowe. “She was such a good big sister. I wish I told her that more.”
Rowe had struggled financially. She had a degree in graphic design but back problems had hampered her.
Rowe had sent her sister an urgent-sounding text just before the tornado hit.
“Call me please,” she wrote.
But by the time Tinsley-Powell found that text, her sister was dead.
The two were close. Amanda was eight years older than her sister. And it took a long time before “she realized she’s not my mother, she’s my sister,” Tinsley-Powell said.
Rowe didn’t have any children of her own. She loved her sister’s kids. Even when she didn’t have much money she brought them gifts.
She had a flair for design and often gave hand-made gifts to loved ones.
Joe Deskins had his own struggles. He was born with a developmental disability but was able to make it on his own with some loving people who watched out for him, said his mother, Jeannie Deskins, who lives in Sacramento, Calif.
“He loved music, he loved to sing,” his mother said.
Before the storm, he and Amanda had gone to dinner.
Eventually Tinsley-Powell spotted her sister’s text. By then the whole thing was over and her sister was gone.
She sent her a text.
“I’m so sorry,” it said.
Alexis Livingston, 19
Alexis Livingston’s life was largely about soccer, and finishing college, and soccer.
That’s her father talking. Jamie Livingston, who describes his daughter as an “amazing young woman.”
Alexis had played goalie on the women’s soccer team at Cook High School. A silent leader, said her coach Jennifer Gosse. The kind of player you want on the team.
She had signed a national letter of intent to play at Johnson University in Florida. But she left school after the fall semester to come back home and go to a local school. A new start, close to her family.
When her younger sister made the soccer team, Alexis decided to switch to coaching. And she was looking forward to assisting Gosse. She was also looking at studying sports medicine or physical therapy, her father said.
On the night of the storm, her parents and siblings went to stay at a relative's home. But Alexis, planning to move to an apartment in less than two weeks, wanted to stay home and pack.
Then came the kind of call that a parent dreads. One of Alexis’s friends asked her father whether she was with them. He said she was missing.
“My wife and I jumped out of bed and ran,” he said.
The parents made their way into the mobile home park, even though authorities had blocked access.
Then came, somewhat later, the formal identification of the body.
But as he walked in for that dreadful task, he felt a strange peace come over him, he said.
He heard a voice in his head.
“Daddy, I’m OK. It’s me. I’m right here, at the right hand of the Father.”