Feb. 5 brought one of the worst tornados to hit Arkansas since 1957 and the longest track by a single tornado ever recorded in Arkansas, cutting a gash of destruction over 120 miles long from Atkins to Highland. Weeks later, cleanup and recovery continue with items blown halfway across the state and beyond.
With the recent violent events still fresh in the Arkansas collective consciousness, people from the Arkansas River to Missouri are finding glimpses into the lives of perfect strangers.
Fred Davis found a picture of a young girl laying on the ground close to the home of Pat Collins near Camp. They decided to try putting the photo, along with a couple others Collins had found online.
Collins said she was watching television station KAIT-8 when she saw a story that included information about Areawide Media setting up a Tornado Lost and Found message board on their Web site, www.areawidenews.com.
"She thought the picture I had, the picture of the little girl, was some of her family that were killed in the bad storm in Atkins," Collins said.
Kizer said the girl in the photo was the same girl in a picture found by Brenda Guffey of Viola. Guffey posted flyers of the photo she had found around Gassville and sent it to several newspapers. After it was published in the Atkins Chronicle the girl was identified as 10-year-old Emmy Cherry.
Along with Emmy, parents Jimmy Cherry Jr., 40, and Dana Cherry, 43, were also killed in the Atkins storm. Kizer is the sister of Dana and aunt to Emmy.
"Kelly told me who she was. I could tell her voice was breaking when she said she thought the picture was of her niece. She described what her niece looked like and also gave me the condolences page from the funeral home where I could go and see the picture of Emmy that they had put up," Collins said. "When I looked at the picture I thought, 'yeah, this is the girl.' Then we exchanged phone numbers, and I told her I would scan the picture and e-mail it to her and let her verify it. She called me immediately and told me it was Emmy," Collins said.
With the total destruction of her sister's home any scrap of her sister's life that Kizer has found is a blessing.
"There was just not much left at my sister's place," Kizer said. "A friend of ours said I should go on a Web site called areawidenews.com. I went on there, and I was just looking when I read a post of a picture of two girls."
"It was just like she was describing my niece. I thought, 'that's just got to be a picture, I just can't believe it.' So, I called Pat Collins immediately. She was telling me a little bit about the picture, and I knew it had to be my niece," Kizer said.
"Pat was very sweet, and she said she would e-mail me the picture. When I opened it up, it was my little niece," she said tearfully. "I called and told her, 'thank you so much.' It just seems really weird that there is nothing there. You just want everything, anything -- a photo, papers with their names on them, stuff that wouldn't mean anything to other people. It is kind of like all we have," Kizer said.
Collins and Kizer have made arrangements to return the photo. "I told Pat I would love to meet her," Kizer said. "I asked her if she found anything else, to please let people know. I know she will because she took the time to post it (Emmy's photo). It's just amazing."
According to Jessica Goff, Webmaster for Areawide Media, the message board is an effort to help people affected by the storms recover items lost to the tornados. Those who find items are encouraged to visit the Web site and post the finds.
"We hope everyone will take the time to post items they find," Erma Harris, managing editor said. "So many people lost everything they had in this devastating storm. Having even one photo, or other personal item returned to them means more then we may ever know."
Some found items include checks, photos, dental records, dogs and the list goes on. Families hit by the tornados are spread across the state and now, so are many of their irreplaceable memories. As of press time, Areawide Media's storm recovery message board has been visited more than 10,000 times.
For more information contact Goff, Webmaster at 800-995-3209.