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MOORE, Okla. (AP) — Nine-year-old Sydney Angle was “everywhere at once” when she was out on the softball field. Kyle Davis, 8, was nicknamed “The Wall” because of his size and presence on the soccer field. JaNae Hornsby, also 9, was the life of the party.
The three were among seven small children pulled lifeless from the rubble of the Plaza Towers Elementary School after a monstrous tornado raked across the building, leaving the one-story building a heap of bricks, broken concrete and twisted metal. In all 24 people were killed — including 10 children — when Monday’s storm ravaged Moore and a slice of Oklahoma City.
Landon McNeill, Angle’s softball coach, lovingly called the charismatic kid “a pickle.” He said he was with Sydney’s parents Monday night as they waited at a church for news about their daughter. Her older sister, who was also at the school, made it out safely, and they held out hope that Sydney had ended up with someone else and would turn up.
“Sydney was real quirky,” McNeill said. “She could be anywhere and have fun doing it.”
The family also lost their home in the tornado, and players and parents from Sydney’s softball league fanned out across intersections in south Oklahoma City Wednesday afternoon collecting donations for her family.
Sydney’s passion for softball was well known, and when she didn’t do well, she would get down on herself.
This month, though, Sydney had excelled. She had two goals: win MVP, which she did at a tournament earlier this month, and pitch. The second goal was a tall order, because she played in a machine-pitch league. But last weekend the team played in a kid-pitch tournament, and Sydney achieved her milestone.
“She loved to play softball and she wanted to succeed at it,” McNeill said.
Nicknamed “The Wall,” Kyle Davis loved another sport — soccer — and going to monster truck exhibitions at the fairgrounds with his grandfather.
As the ominous funnel cloud began its 17-mile path, Kyle took shelter in the school’s gymnasium with dozens of other students, said his grandfather Marvin Dixon.
“He was in the position that the teacher told them to be in — crouched down with their hands over their heads,” Dixon said. “The medical examiner said either some big rock or beam or something fell right on the back of his neck. He said he died instantly.”
“Plaza did the best they could,” said Kyle’s mother, Mikki Davis, at the family’s visitation Wednesday. “That’s all they have. I’m big on the schools need shelters. They need storm cellars, something where these kids can go and we’re not picking through rubble to try and find our kids. We can know that they’re underground, that they’re safe, that if this should ever happen again, and I wouldn’t wish that on anybody, we’re not going through rubble, we’re going right there and getting all those kids out.”
Monday night was a long night of waiting, she said. She said she was left with worried thoughts: Was he trapped, cold, hungry?
“Is he screaming, is he crying?” she said. Authorities didn’t confirm Kyle’s death until Tuesday morning, she said.
Dixon counted his grandson among the lucky ones. The medical examiner reported that the six other children who died at the school suffocated after being buried under a mass of bricks, steel and other materials as the building collapsed. Dixon said a morgue worker told him some of the children who suffocated were huddled in one of the school’s bathrooms.
“He said some of the kids were hurt so bad it was tough to even identify them,” Dixon said, his voice cracking with emotion.
Kyle earned his nickname, “The Wall,” because of the ferocity with which he played his favorite sport — soccer.
“He was a pretty big kid,” his grandfather said. “Whenever he had the ball, other kids would just bounce off of him. That’s why they called him that. … He was just the kindest, most giving kid you would ever meet. He had a grin from ear to ear.”
JaNae Hornsby’s father, Joshua Hornsby, rushed toward the Plaza Towers school when he realized the powerful tornado packing speeds up to 200 mph was bearing down on the town. But it took him 30 minutes. The tornado already slammed through the building.
“I was just in panic,” Hornsby said, recalling those minutes when he realized the school had been hit and he hadn’t made it in time.
“I just kept going until I got to the school and when I got to the school I started to look for JaNae,” he said Wednesday, sitting on the small front porch of a relative’s home in nearby Oklahoma City.
By then, the third-grader was among those suffocated beneath the debris.
Frantic, he combed through the rubble with other students and first responders looking desperately for JaNae. Slowly, more and more children were pulled from the rubble. Some had scratches and bruises. Some were bleeding. But they were alive. And none of them were JaNae.
With each passing minute, “there was still more panic,” Hornsby said.
For two days, Hornsby and a small group of parents whose children were not found in the rubble waited at a church in Moore.
“I was still hopeful that maybe she would turn up,” Hornsby said, thinking she might be at a friend’s house or someplace else.
On Tuesday, he was at the church when he received the news.
His daughter was among the 10 children killed, buried under the rubble of a school that had always been a safe haven. The official cause of her death was mechanical asphyxia.
The family’s house, just three blocks from the school, also was destroyed. He hasn’t gone back to see if he might find a few of JaNae’s things to keep.
“JaNae was the life of the party. If JaNae was there, you were having a good time. She liked to sing, be a big sister, be a big cousin. She liked to draw,” he said.
As family gathered to make funeral arrangements and comfort one another, Hornsby looked behind him into the house.
“If she was here, she would just have everybody laughing and she would be in the midst of everything. She loved the spotlight,” he said.
Christopher Legg, another 9-year-old who was among the children found suffocated under debris, was described by his family as someone who never met a stranger — everyone was a friend.
Christopher played football, baseball and basketball and “loved to roughhouse and wrestle” with his father, older brother and little sister, his family said in a statement. The youngster also faced his diagnosis with skin cancer and an illness that can cause painful inflammation of the knees in young athletes “with the same strength and enthusiasm that he had for life.”
Associated Press writer Christopher Sherman contributed to this report.