It was chaos as the horrific tornado that ripped through Oklahoma yesterday approached Plaza Towers Elementary school. But somehow, some way, first-grade teacher Becky Jo Evans' protective instincts kicked in. In the midst of all the noise, screaming, and destruction, Evans managed to think only about one thing: her students. She managed to usher some of them into a bathroom. As the walls began to fall around them, she quickly jumped on top of their tiny bodies to shield them from falling debris. After the horrific twister passed, the teacher continued on to pull children from the destroyed building.
As we have learned from school tragedies past, Evans' reaction was not unique. But that does not diminish what she did, it makes it all the more extraordinary. Stories of other Oklahoma school teachers who fearlessly protected their students in similar ways are coming to light in the aftermath, and we continue to be awestruck and grateful for each and every one.
It's almost impossible to think about Evans' heroism on that frightful day without drawing comparisons to the courageous teaching staff at Sandy Hook Elementary. As we all remember, teachers in Newtown sprung to action and risked their lives to put their students first, protecting them from the gunman.
These selfless educators were willing to risk it all for the love of their kids. And while any of us would hope we would react the same honorable way in that situation, it's natural to question whether we might have the guts, the same level of courage. We can only hope and pray that we would.
If anyone was especially touched by Evans' harrowing ordeal, it was her best friend, Edie Cordray. While news reports depicted the ghastly destruction of Plaza Towers, Cordray, a preschool teacher from another town not affected by the tornado, was in a frenzy. When Becky Jo and her students had been reported missing, all Cordray wanted to do was drive to where the school had been and weave through the wreckage. Little did she know at the time that her best friend's heroic efforts saved the lives of several lucky students amidst a horrific tragedy. Little did she know that her best friend was not only alive, but a true hero.
Once Evans was located, Cordray gushed with happiness to The Times. "After I knew she was OK, I knew I was not going to go to bed until I saw her and hugged her." We can only imagine how much amazing that embrace felt after such a frightening time.
We need to thank our lucky stars that there are teachers out there like Evans, and all the many others both named and still unnamed for their selflessness and courage. This list is bound to get a lot longer in the days ahead ...
- Rhonda Crosswhite: The sixth grade teacher draped her body across six students in a bathroom stall, shielding them from flying debris.
- Sherri Bittle and Cindy Lowe: The two first-grade teachers had students place their backpacks above their heads as a safety precaution. When the tornado got closer, they also put their bodies on top of as many kids as possible.
Have you heard any other heroic stories from yesterday's tragedy? Would you have been able to act as quickly as these teachers?
Image via CBS