March 7, 2007
Newton -- Two of the victims who died in the tornado that struck Newton were girls-- 12-year old Kursty Thomas and 9-year-old Kierra Crumbley, who both attended Baker County Elementary & Middle School.
Returning to school was a challenge for the 40 other students affected by the storm.
In the wake of one of the worst tragedies ever in Baker County, elementary and middle school students returned to school just days after a tornado ravaged many of their homes, and killed two of their classmates.
On Monday morning, school administrators were prepared for the worst. "We had provided ourselves with a team of grief counselors and we had them situated and available so that if any child really needed them then they would be available."
After losing friends so young, many of the students did get counseling.
"I was in big pain. Like my heart was ready to stop," said one student. "We just used to be real good friends."
For the most part, things have returned to normal here for the students. A lot of that is thanks to a letter writing exercise one of the teachers came up with to help the students cope with their grief.
Kursty Thomas' teacher had the class write letters to her, to express their feelings. "I will never forget you Kursty you were the first person that was nice to me," said Malinda Goodman.
Writing and sharing the letters brought comfort to many of her grieving friends. "It helped me express my feelings," said a classmate.
Now Kursty's friends want to remember the good times. "She loved P.E. The one game we'd always play, it was called ballwall."
The life of 9-year-old Kierra Crumbley was also cut tragically short on Thursday night. But she left memories that won't soon be forgotten. "she was sweet and she was pretty and she was my cousin."
Their principal hopes despite their great loss and grief, his students will carry a valuable lesson with them. "I hope they learn that in life, unfortunate things happen but even in spite of that you still have to more or less pick up the pieces and go on."
They'll go on, but they'll never forget... "When I'm down she picks me back up and school will be different without her."
"I'm feeling better about your death... But I still miss you."
The funeral for Kursty Thomas and her mother and stepfather will be at Thankful Baptist Church in Baker County Friday at 2:00 PM. The funeral for 9-year-old Kierra Crumbley is Saturday at 3:00 PM at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Newton.
As classmates spoke out about their friends, FEMA set up in Newton, joining the growing list of agencies providing relief to Baker County.
Individuals can apply for federal aid now that President Bush added Baker County to a federal disaster declaration. Anyone whose home or business was damaged should come to the disaster center on Roosevelt Avenue and sign up for assistance.
"In this facility you can get assistance with crisis counseling, the red cross is here for assistance," said FEMA Operation Section Chief Rex Johnson. "There are people here from the department of insurance. We have people with mitigation here who can provide you with information on how to build a, perhaps build a safe room in your house for tornado damages."
FEMA representatives says they'll be there as long as it takes to see everyone affected.