After watching video after video from CNN out of Joplin, Missouri, seeing the frustration, anger, and fear that families still searching for loved ones are feeling, and shedding many tears for the victims and for their frantic families, I felt compelled to write this blog for these families, if for no other reason than to let them know they are not alone. I find myself writing this blog with both a heavy heart and an angry one as well. After such a devastating storm, chaos is understandable, but it looks as though there is simply no one in Joplin who has the wherewithal to organize the chaos so that families can find or claim their loved ones; making this an hourly, even a daily tragedy for these poor people.
Why is there so much frustration? First, information is so disjointed and the searchable area is way beyond Joplin, as the storm picked up and carried cars, houses, and buildings for miles. Second, at this point, 125 have been confirmed dead, but an estimated 1,500 are still missing! The sheer number of missing people makes this a nightmare in a town covered in debris and human suffering.
In a press conference, Governor Jay Nixon stated, “When you have folks that are lost, and when you have folks that are missing, we are very cognizant of the need to talk to those families first, and trying to get to the families.” But while rescue efforts are obviously underway, the questions these families have about their missing loved ones seem to be falling on deaf ears.
A local call-in center has received a multitude of information and potential leads. Brian Todd reporting from the call-in center explained, “After the calls come in here the information immediately goes into a database shared with the sheriff’s office, the state highway patrol, and the first responders who are coming through all the neighborhoods.”
But their efforts don’t seem to be working. The problem is trying to co-ordinate all of the information coming in and getting that information out fast enough to families who are desperately awaiting news.
Michelle and Mike Hare have been searching for their 16-year old son, Lantz, and have received multiple leads that have, according to Michelle, “turned out as cold as ice.” Yet, Michelle says she’s grateful for every lead and follows up every one. Lantz was in his car when the storm hit, and though his wrecked car has been found, he has not turned up. One of the leads they were given was that a body matching their son’s description was found near his destroyed car, and the individual who found him stayed with him until authorities arrived and took him away. That is the last piece of information they have received regarding their son.
Michelle said, “We need to have some closure one way or the other to be able to move on and, if it is my son, to…let him rest in peace, and not be, you know, out there where his family’s not able to do what we need to do for him now if it is him.” Meanwhile, she waits, prepared for the worst.
And her ex-husband, Mike, says they have gone from hospitals in Springfield, Kansas City, and Wichita looking for their son. They have a Facebook page for Lantz Hare and Mike’s cell phone number is on this link if anyone reading this has any additional information.
I blogged earlier in the week about Will Norton, a graduate of high school for only a few hours who was ripped out of his Hummer through the sun roof. His father, who was with him at the time, tried to hold onto him but had to watch as his son, who was quoting Bible verses the whole time, was ripped out of his arms and up into the tornado.
They had been very hopeful because they had received a lead from a doctor that their son had shown up in the ER, had been treated, and had left the hospital. Unfortunately, the boy in question was not their son, and Will’s condition remains a mystery. They, too, are searching all over, as there is no way of knowing how far he was taken by the storm.
Then there’s Dee Ann Hayward, whose son, Caleb, had graduated from high school on Sunday. She had gone to pick up pizza for the graduation party, but she never returned. Her three children, Christina, Caleb, and Robert are frantically searching for her. Robert said, “We all miss her. She was a great person. She didn’t deserve this at all. Any one of us would trade places with her.”
Like so many others, they have been looking everywhere for her, including in neighboring states, and in the hospitals. They reported, as did another family CNN followed, that people at the morgue have been very unfriendly and unwilling to let them search for their mother.
Finally, I was so furiously saddened by the story of Tammy and Tony Niederhelman whose son, Zach is believed to be dead. Before the storm hit, Tammy told Zach to get into the bathroom for safety. Somehow, when Tony woke up, he was sitting out in his pickup truck with no recollection of how he ended up there. He said that they looked for Zach and couldn’t find him. The next day, he was told by a neighbor that he found Tony standing over Zach’s body after the storm, and he made sure Tony got to the hospital. The neighbor said about 20 minutes after the storm ceased, Zach was picked up by an ambulance, and there was no doubt that he was dead when the ambulance took him away.
Three days in a row, starting on Monday, the Niederhelmans showed up to the morgue where they were told they had to fill out paperwork. Each day, they brought pictures of their son. Each day, they tried to get down to the morgue to identify and claim their son, but each day they were told they couldn’t do that. They even tried to bring a CNN camera crew inside with them, but the camera crew was blocked. Each time, they have gotten a different answer, even being told that the morgue had lost their paperwork.
Today, when they went back again and filled out more paperwork, they were told it might be as much as two weeks before they would be able to try to see their son! Are you kidding me? What parent is going to accept that answer? I sure wouldn’t; I would be breaking down those doors to see my child at this point! No guard would be able to stop me!
The Niederhelmans have said that they are arguing for all of the families out there who just want to know, and have the right to know, if their loved one is in the morgue. Anderson Cooper who has been reporting from Joplin said, “I don’t understand, wait a minute; they said it’s going to take two weeks for them to be able to go to the morgue and find out whether their child is there? I was in Sri Lanka after the tsunami, and they would photograph those people who had died in the storm, and loved ones could just look at the pictures and identify their loved one if they were able to. I don’t understand why that can’t happen here.”
According to John King, from CNN, one of the reasons things are moving so slowly at the morgue is because they made a mistake in identifying somebody, so they have pulled back and have reverted to this ridiculously meticulous process.
This is simply not acceptable! These people in Joplin, Missouri, have suffered enough. Someone needs to get in there who can get the process moving in a methodical fashion and allow these people the chance to either care for or bury their loved ones. It’s been done before; it can be done again. Get this process moving and allow these poor people to move on!