Wreckage scoured for Joplin toddler

05/25/2011 12:00 AM

08/05/2014 2:43 PM

JOPLIN, Mo. —The baby, 16-month-old Skyular Logsdon, was sucked away by the storm. One second he was safe at home with this mom and dad and grandparents. Then, in the swirl of Sunday's EF5 tornado, their house was reduced to sticks.

Mom flew. Dad flew. Grandparents were tossed 100 feet away, dropping onto wet grass. Faces were gashed, limbs broken.

Skyular vanished.

If he is going to be found, Tuesday is the day, his family hopes.

It's 7:15 a.m. Tuesday. More than 70 firefighters from a dozen counties gather at the city's Public Safety and Justice Center, the command post for a citywide search and rescue effort that for two days has occupied more 400 men and women, many now exhausted to near delirium.

Their charge: Search the rubble. Find the living. Find the dead.

Many of the searchers have been up for more than 30 hours straight. Their faces are red, their eyes bleary. Heavy rain, almost incessant since the tornado, has inundated the city, flooding its streets and darkening the daytime sky.

Time is running out for the living, the rescuers know. Families of the dead want to know where their loved ones lie. A special telephone line has logged more than 2,000 calls from people searching for the missing. No one knows exactly what the number of missing is, as numerous people may have fled after the storm to stay with friends and relatives.

Before the days ends, the death toll will reach at least 122.

The National Weather Service announces that the twister was an EF-5, with winds of more than 200 mph, and appeared to be a rare multivortex tornado, with two or more centers of rotation orbiting the larger funnel.

It is the deadliest single twister since the weather service began keeping official records in 1950 and the eighth-deadliest in U.S. history.

"We need to move fast," Joplin Fire Department Battalion Chief Charles Copple tells the men and women. "They're calling for more storms today. Hail, 60 mile per hour winds and lightning again."

The plan is to search the tornado's entire path again — six miles, sector by sector from west to east, before the rain returns. Clearing millions of tons of debris from this city will take months. Bodies could be emerging for a long time.

But if anyone is pinned beneath the rubble, trapped in an air pocket, caught in a basement — if anyone, alive or dead, is there — the searchers want to find them now.

* * *

"Get me an ax," a rescuer shouts.

He wields it against a hunk of carpet. He and a half-dozen other rescuers wrench back a metal water pipe and, quickly, one piece at a time, toss aside a mound of wood and wires and crunched metal that was once an orthodontist's office some 200 feet from Skyular's home.

This is the search for the boy.

It's not hopeful.

On the edge of the mound, Joyce McNeill waits with Fire, her cadaver dog, a 2-year-old blue merle border collie trained to sniff out bodies. Good ones can detect and pinpoint human remains 25 feet underwater, McNeill says.

At least 22 cadaver dogs are roaming the Joplin wreckage. When a dog detects a body, it lies down on that spot.

Fire lies down on this mound.

"When that dog hit, you almost shed a tear," says rescuer James Beets, 22, who came from Miami, Okla., and had been working without sleep for 29 hours.

Matt Woods from Columbus, Kan., is with him. On the night of the tornado, the 21-year-old firefighter was at the Greenbriar, a skilled nursing facility where they helped rescue dozens of people.

He also helped remove 11 bodies.

"It doesn't matter how long you've been a medic," he says, "it doesn't prepare you."

* * *

The rescuers dig deeper.

"Where are the bolt cutters?" one shouts.

A small crowd circles the mound at a respectful distance. The mound becomes a hole.

Behind the crowd, in silence, sit some of Skyular's relatives. The moment is both horrible and hopeful for them.

Skyular's parents, Cord Logsdon, 21, and C.J. Tate, 18, are still in the hospital. So are his grandparents. When the storm struck, other relatives living nearby and in Oklahoma, like Skyular's great-aunt Ronda Cheek, 45, and great-uncle Frank Reynolds, 47, and the boy's great-grandmother, Sue Slaughter, 67, had no clue what had become of the family.

Frantic with worry, they called police and hospitals. Finally, they came up, and over two days of searching they tracked family members to hospitals here and in Parsons and Pittsburg, Kan.

Cheek says she can still hear the knee-weakening first words of Skyular's grandmother, Robin Logsdon, 47, when they entered her hospital room.

"Skyular's gone!"

Please, could they find him?

So they've searched, walking into every hospital, calling law enforcement. They entered the morgue at Missouri Southern University to see the body of a then-unidentified baby, also about 16 months old, that they hoped, but also feared, could be Skyular.

In their hearts, the relatives would like to believe Skyular is alive. In their minds, they know the odds they're against.

"If he's not alive," Cheek says, "we need to find him."

* * *

Another piece of debris is flipped over. Fire sits again until it is discovered that, as at the orthodontist's office, the debris is scattered with dental impressions bearing human DNA.

Fire is reacting to the impressions. Another cadaver dog is brought in, and this time the dog wanders around the mound and hole without reacting.

To the family, this search around Skyular's home was their best shot of finding him. They would search in this one spot all day if they could.

But the search team has many blocks, house after house, to go, and only so many hours of daylight. Pile after pile of rubble where a living person might be trapped or a lifeless body might lie.

The search team moves on.

"We just keep looking," said Woods, the firefighter. "Ain't nothing else we can do."

The family walks away, headed back to the morgue to check again for a 16-month-old boy.

* * *

Through the day, the story of the search for Skyular spreads across the country. By Tuesday night, a Facebook page called Bring Skyular Logsdon Home has logged more than 5,500 messages. Some people mention things they've heard: A young boy in a hospital. A young boy's body in the morgue.

Most of them send their thoughts for this boy and his family.

"My entire office has been praying for Skyular all day," one says. "Sending more prayers and hope your way from Las Vegas. My little boy is 15 months old and I can't imagine how your family is feeling, but from one mother's heart to another, sending much love and prayers."

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