Friday, September 22, 2000

7-year-old helped others dig out of smashed church

By Lew Moores
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        XENIA — It had been raining and then it got dark and then it hit.

        Austyn Thurman, 7, heard someone yell, “Everybody get down!” as children began scrambling for the basement of the Xenia Church of God on Upper Bellbrook Road.

        “I heard lots of noise and screaming,” said Austyn. “I got hit with a board. Then I went back and helped some people.”

        Austyn stood outside the demolished church Thursday morning with his father, Bill Thurman, the youth pastor. The church collapsed on itself from the force of the tornado that tore through this town Wednesday night. The church grounds were littered with limbs from fractured trees, shingles, snapped utility poles.

        Austyn was one of 20 children at the church when the winds hit, while another 80 gathered at a barn for a church activity about 200 yards away. Also at the barn was Austyn's father.

        Some of the children at the barn watched in horror as they saw the church crumble.

        Austyn began helping children, many of them under 10, to their feet. He saw his 5-year-old brother Chase on the floor of the church.

        “My brother was under a piece of wood and he had brick on top of him. I helped him. I took him down the stairs to get him safe in the basement.”

        The church was built in the mid-1970s after the original church was destroyed by the April 1974 tornado.

        The church will rebuild again.

        “The devil thinks he wins and he never does,” said Mr. Thurman.

Complete coverage of the Xenia tornado:
Gallery of photographs from the scene
The path of the twister: Infographic
Few warned of twister
- 7-year-old helped others dig out of smashed church
Psychologist: Fear of storms can be dealt with
Spared in 1974, but not in 2000
The Enquirer's special 25th anniversary coverage of the Tornado of 1974

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