VILONIA — Within a few minutes of the April 25 tornado, Jennifer Shaw Parker returned to her manufactured home in the Black Oak Ranch area to find it demolished and lying in a ditch.
In the hours to come, she would learn that three of her neighbors had been killed. Some of her animals had also perished.
Since that Monday night, she’s been trying to pick up the pieces. But, she said, it’s hard to move on and at times she doesn’t know which way to turn.
"I come out here and look around, and I really don’t know where to start," she said.
Digging in a debris pile, a camera was found. Although it appears to be beyond repair, the memory card storing photos from a couple of past holidays was intact. Parker was thrilled.
"Easter is on there. Christmas is on there," she said.
She listed a few other sentimental items that she has discovered.
Sharing her memories of "BT—before tornado," she said, the first part of the evening was non-eventful. Her husband, James, was working. She and her two children, Zane and Kerrick, were watching a movie, and she wasn’t aware of the seriousness of the weather. She received a phone call, shortly after 7 p.m., alerting her that a tornado was approaching her area and to take cover.
"I had eight minutes to get out," she said. "I grabbed the medicine and threw it in a backpack, loaded the kids and went to a neighbor’s house. It took me about three minutes to get there."
Inside the storm shelter, she said, she barely heard any sounds. That neighbor escaped damage and she thought it would be the same for her family. However, she would quickly learn she was painstakingly wrong. Driving back, the first clue to the devastation was a tree blocking the roadway. Minutes later, she would realize her mobile home had literally vanished from sight ultimately in a heap in a ditch. Her animals were disturbed and running loose with the fencing down. The kennel holding her two Great Pyrenees dogs had rolled over and the dogs had perished. Yet, the mother dog had covered her three puppies saving their lives.
As she moved about her property that night, reality set in quickly. She could hear the commotion at her surrounding neighbors as well and she was overcome with fear. She was calling neighbors and they were calling her, she said, to check on well-beings.
On that note, Parker motions to 47 Crooked Creek Road, across the road from her property where her neighbor Craig Garvin was found dead as a result of the tornado.
"His house flipped three times," she said she was told by one neighbor. "He crawled out and made it about three yards."
Tears roll down Parker’s cheeks as she talks about the 63-year-old Garvin. He was like a family member, she said. She talks about driving him to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Little Rock for his medical care. She said she had called him before and tried to get him to go to a storm shelter. He always declined, she said. One reason, she surmised was that he didn’t want to leave his animals behind. One of those animals, she said, a Great Pyrenees was a gift from her.
"I miss him so much," she said.
She talked about the difficulty of breaking the news of his death to her children.
A couple in their mid-40s, Katherine and David Talley of 17 Stacey Cove, were neighbors to the back of her property. They were also found dead in a shipping container as a result of the tornado. She points to some debris trapped in a fence line saying she fears that some of it may be some of their personal items such as photos. She hasn’t walked to the fence line since the tornado but plans to ask some volunteers to go there and see if anything can be salvaged and returned to their family.
There have been other disappointments rising from the tornado as well, she said. She surrendered three horses. Someone stole her turkeys. And, those three puppies that survived the tornado, under the cover of their mother are displaced.
She was caring for the nursing puppies, she said, when "a woman showed up, offered to help and gave me her business card." Parker said the woman promised to take care of the puppies for a few days allowing her family to concentrate on other pressing matters.
Parker said she reluctantly let the puppies go. When she contacted the woman a few days later, she said the woman had allegedly turned them over to another party to care for them. Ultimately, Parker doesn’t know who is caring for them but, she said, "they are mine, and I want them back. I didn’t give them to anyone."
Currently, Parker and her family are staying in Conway with other family members. She goes out on a daily basis and does what she can do to clean up some of the debris while her husband works at his job. As far as her immediate needs, she said she would welcome the help of some volunteers to assist with clean up.
She doesn’t know if they will build or buy another manufactured home but she’s pretty sure they will return to the acreage as "it’s home."