Memorial Day disaster unites Brookville, Ohio community
When tragedy struck, this small Ohio town rose up to meet the needs of the community.
(Brookville, OH) – A category F3 tornado plowed through the small, farm-town community of Brookville, Ohio late Memorial Day evening. Dozens of homes were completely destroyed. Cars were thrown around like ragdolls. Residents were injured and rushed to the hospital. It was a miracle there were no fatalities in the community.
You never, ever, think it will happen to your community. Until it does.
Like many midwesterners, the threat of a tornado doesn’t scare the home of the Brookville Blue Devils like it should. There are several tornado warnings per year in the quaint community, where everybody knows everybody, but many never take them too seriously, residents say.
However, terror unfolded Monday evening as what looked like a bomb had gone off in Terrace Park, a well-known subdivision where many students who attend Brookville Local Schools live.
An F3 tornado with winds up to 140mph, according to the National Weather Service raced through the small Ohio town, where some residents say, “nothing exciting ever happens.”
Early reports indicate that citizens were seen sobbing in the streets, trapped in their houses, injured, bleeding, confused, scared and hysterical – all while they were assessing the critical damage that had just unfolded. The smell of gas leaks permeated the air, trees were barricading roads and power lines intermingled the massive amounts of debris littering the area after the massive air twister struck, residents explained.
First responders from all over the Dayton area were dispatched immediately.
Brookville graduates, Luke Gearhart and Rachel Sussman, were taking cover in a closet when the tornado blew through Sussman’s family home.
“It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. It was so loud I couldn’t even hear myself think. We opened the closet door and all I saw was the sky,” Gearhart said.
“It was complete terror. All I could do was tell my family I love them because I was so certain it was going to be my last moments alive,” Sussman, who graduated just days earlier, said. “I knew God was watching over us. It really put the fragility of life into perspective, as a recent grad with big plans ahead of me,” Sussman shared.
A completely unscathed Bible is all that rested on the bed in Sussman’s demolished home.
One older man, who was quite visibly distraught, couldn’t even speak after being asked if he was alright. Dazed students and heartbroken citizens were roaming the dark streets working to make sense of the mess.
“Everything in my home was destroyed, except the one hallway my family and I huddled in,” one Brookville mother said – unable to fully process the magnitude of the tornado’s destruction.
The entire scene looked like something from a horror movie, many residents recalled.
Early the next morning, cars, trucks and utility vans bustled through the streets as the community saw the damage of the tornado in the daylight. Part of Brookville High School was destroyed and school was closed just days before the end of the school year. The power in the area was still down and people walked throughout the demolition, trying to comprehend everything that had happened the previous evening.
“[I’m] so glad this happened at night without any of my kids in the building,” one Brookville High School teacher wrote on her Facebook.
Quickly, the community came together.
By 10:00 a.m., Brookville citizens, family, friends and students lined the streets, eager to help. Dozens of people were seen cleaning debris, making lunches, handing out water and praying with one another. The hashtag #BrookvilleStrong began trending in the small community on social media, being used by many community residents on Facebook. Hometown churches like The Ridge, as well as local businesses like Bear Naked Tanning, even joined forces to provide for the needs of the community and shelter or feed people.
Lisa Beckett, a lifelong resident of Brookville, took immediate action and handed out dozens of freshly made Mar-Chele pretzels, a town classic, to those in need of food.
“Just smelling a Mar-Chele pretzel lifts people’s spirits,” Beckett said.
Beckett and her husband also bought clothes for families, directed people to hotdogs and helped raise awareness for individual needs on Facebook. Beckett’s daughter even began a GoFundMe for a family friend who lost everything in the storm.
“It was truly devastating to go back there and experience the damage in person, but seeing the way everyone is out responding and helping our friends is so incredible,” Beckett finished.
It was all somber.
“It was amazing how many friends showed up. We were working on salvaging stuff at my daughter’s house. People brought trucks, trailers, and chainsaws. A group of five students just walked in asked what they could do to help and started moving everything they could,” Tina Johnson Bolanger, another lifelong resident of Brookville shared. “I’m so thankful for our community of brothers and sisters and want them to know I love them,” she said.
Many community teachers are also overjoyed to watch the relief efforts unfold.
Brookville High School French and Government teacher, Amy Boyd, made it to the area struck by the tornado early the next morning.
“I am so very impressed by the number of high school kids helping out. They are moving debris from backyards to the curb and doing remarkable work. I’m so proud of our Blue Devil kids,” Boyd shared.
Chelsea Tiley, a first-grade teacher at Brookville Elementary School was also astonished by the love and support in the community.
“There were people everywhere asking me if I was okay, and telling me their child was so concerned for me and asking if Miss Tiley was alright,” she said. “I was more worried about them the entire time,” she added. Tiley volunteered giving residents food and ice with several other teachers in the district.
“There is beauty in ashes,” Tiley said. “I’m positive that no other community could handle what happened the way Brookville has,” she finished.
Memorial Day is a time to remember the heroes who’ve fallen while fighting for our freedom. It’s a time for BBQs, war stories and cornhole. In the small town of Brookville, Ohio, it also became a day to remember the tornado that struck their tiny community.
Tragedy unites people. Brookville experienced this firsthand.
The Blue Devils in Brookville, Ohio are certainly a new example to the nation of a town forged in strength, love and resilience amidst adversity.
Residents of this small community are #BrookvilleStrong.
UPDATE: The tornado has upgraded. It is now officially category F4.