The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

May 22, 2013

Parents face tough choice when tornadoes bear down

— MOORE, Okla. (AP) — With an ominous storm approaching, the Moore Public School District flashed a text alert to parents: "We are currently holding all students until the current storm danger is over. Students are being released to parents only at this time."

Parents had a gut-wrenching choice, and only a few minutes to make it. Trust the safety of the seemingly solid school buildings and the protection of trained teachers and staff. Or drive frantically ahead of a massive tornado and attempt to take their children safely home.

"Something clicked in my head and said that my children would be afraid and they would be safer with me," said Amy Sharp, who jumped in her pickup, peeled off through pounding rain and hail, and pulled her 10- and 12-year-old daughters out Plaza Towers Elementary School.

Sharp survived with her children. But seven of the many remaining students died when the twister ripped down the school's roof and walls.

Exactly how do desperate parents like those in the path of the powerful Oklahoma tornado know when it's best to leave their children in a presumably safe place or race into the face of danger?

"You have that parent-child draw. That protective factor, where they want to go at any cost, no matter what. The options aren't very good in a tornado if you're thinking about going to rescue your children," said Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center that provides training to schools around the country.

"Which way is the wind going to twist? What's it going to pick up? What won't it pick up? Until someone becomes all-powerful, all-knowing and all-perceiving, it is tough to expect 100 percent perfection from schools and parents," he said.

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