MOORE, Okla. - E.H. Pittman, a soldier with the 45th Infantry Brigade, had just returned from a year in Afghanistan when he went to work at the newest 7-Eleven location; the corner of S.W. 4th St. and Telephone Rd. in Moore.
Uninjured in combat, he almost met death inside that store.
Pittman got to work early that day.
He was unprepared, unaware of the monster storm that was forming just a few miles away.
When the sirens sounded, and the lights went out, Pittman rushed his co-workers and some customers into the bathroom. Even inside the convenience store, the wind was deafening.
“It’s like you’re standing next to a freight train, literally standing next to it,” Pittman said. “The noise, it’s intense.”
“It sounds like there’s no way you can escape anything. It’s right there at you,” Bri Bellman said, another 7-Eleven employee who was working that day.
There was no escape for those victims; eight adults and a baby.
Terri Long, Megan Futrell and her infant son, Case did not survive.
“We had seen her trying to protect her baby and so I was on top her,” Bellman said. “And (Pittman) was on top of me. He was holding onto me, grabbing me, trying to help all of us. He was trying to help all of us.”
“Her and her baby was under my right arm,” Pittman said. “I was just trying to hold onto them and Bri. You just, you really, you can’t hold onto much.”
A stranger snapped a photo as he was being pulled from the rubble.
Even as his life was being saved he told rescuers how to locate the other victims.
He told them to look for Megan Futrell and her baby boy.
“When they found me I still had a hold of her shirt. I don’t know where they found her at,” Pittman said.
They tried so hard to save everyone.
They are heartbroken that it wasn’t enough.
“They told me they found her still holding her baby in the cooler, or where it should have been,” Bellman said. “They said they found her wrapped around her baby like a cocoon.”
Pittman’s injuries were critical; debris wounds covered his body, both shoulder blades fractured, both lungs collapsed and his back was broken.
“After they pulled me out and set me on the concrete, (they) told me I stood up and took a couple of steps and sat down and said I can’t feel my legs. I don’t remember that. I guess that was my last three steps right there,” Pittman said.
Doctors said he is paralyzed, though he has some feeling in his legs which makes him hopeful he’ll walk again.
Doctors said they are not yet sure when he’ll be strong enough to go home.
Pittman does therapy four hours a day at Jim Thorpe.
He is learning to live without the use of his legs and working desperately hard to get their function back.
He wants to walk.
“When I got here they asked me if I had any goals,” he said. “I told them my goal was to walk out of here.”
Pittman’s wife Jean has been by his side the entire time.
He has two kids who are ready for dad to come home.
It will be a long journey, in every way.
He still has nightmares.
The victims are still haunted by the images, the sounds and the pain of what happened that afternoon at work.
“It’s terrifying to look at all the damage that was there and think I was right there,” Bellman said.
The sky over Moore still churns with sadness; signs of lives lost and hope for those who have been given the gift of life.
E.H. Pittman and Bri Bellman have had their medical bills paid as part of workers comp because they were both on the job at 7-Eleven when they were injured.
However, Pittman will have many long-term expenses.