JACKSBORO, Texas - It wasn’t a task she pictured having to take on when she decided to go into elementary school teaching, but when a massive tornado bared down on her school Monday, Amy Wesson said none of that mattered for her and her fellow Jacksboro Elementary staff.
Their training kicked in, and they acted to keep their students safe. It was a move that leaders in the North Texas community said undoubtedly saved lives.
On Monday afternoon, a massive EF-3 tornado ripped into Jacksboro, and sitting directly in the storm’s path was the town’s elementary school.
As Wesson and her daughter Star tried to get their family’s now storm-damaged Jeep to start up Tuesday morning in the school’s debris-filled parking lot, they recalled the twister approaching the school right as students were lining up outside to go home for the day. Star had just come to the school with a friend to meet her mom, and said they could hear the commotion begin.
“Me and my friend were in her [Amy’s] classroom and we heard someone screaming, ‘anyone in the hall come on!’” Star said. “And when it hit the doors flung open. All of that, that yellow stuff [insulation], it was all in the school.”
Amy Wesson said she and her fellow teachers and school staff members started quickly directing all of the kids, and any parents who had arrived for pickup, back into the building and into hallways designated safe for storm sheltering.
“Most of the time I was just protecting all the kids. Making sure the kids were calm and collected and OK,” said Wesson.
The Wessons, other teachers, parents and students returning to the school to check on their abandoned cars Tuesday morning, said the storm hit the campus fast and left many very frightened as the winds wailed outside.
“Everyone was screaming, running down, we were running down the hall away from the tornado!” Said Emma Uribe, who was there with her mother, Blanca. Their vehicle was upside-down in the parking lot.
It was in the immediate aftermath of the storm Monday night that rescuers in town called out the school’s staff and principal specifically for their quick action and calm response during the storm. The school's gym roof and wall would be destroyed by the storm, vehicles and buses picked up and tipped in the parking lot, and debris scattered dangerously everywhere outside.
“Them locking them down and keeping the kids there until it was all over probably helped a lot,” said Jacksboro Fire Captain Jason Jennings.
When asked by a reporter if those school staff saved lives, Jennings responded, "absolutely, absolutely they did."
“Everybody was good and it was just a good feeling,” said Jacksboro Police Chief Scott Haynes, who was the first officer to respond to the school after the storm. “We really escaped major injuries out of that.”
In the end, everyone in the school walked out of the building fine on Monday. There were no major injuries reported among anyone, including the students, who were sheltering in place there through the storm.
The school district will have to alter the rest of the school year with the elementary and high schools fairly torn up from the tornado. However, teachers at the school Tuesday had no doubt they’d be back at it soon enough; everyone just glad to still be standing.
“The kids were great,” said Amy Wesson. “Everyone just handled a terrible situation awesome.”
Though she never expected to be in a situation like that, Wesson said they just did what they had to that day to keep their kids safe, in her case, both her own kid and her students.
“Rockstars,” she said. “That’s the only thing I can say.”
Chief Haynes said that ironically the school was planning to do severe weather drills with his office on Tuesday morning, not knowing they’d get the real thing the night before.