Teachers remember Plaza Towers 5 years later

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MOORE, Okla. - It was such a normal day, turning in textbooks and celebrating children. But, the sweet memories of an awards ceremony were hijacked by an unwelcome intruder.

The first tornado alert came at 3:01 p.m. Within 15 minutes, it was over the playground of Plaza Towers Elementary.

“Miss Simpson stepped out and saw the tornado, stepped back in and said it's here, take cover," said Counselor Kristin Atchley.

Teachers and staff had already wrangled dozens of students and were hunkered down in their safe spots.

No amount of training, no safety manual could have prepared them for it.

“We linked arms together, and her husband was on the phone praying when it began," said Teacher Lindsie Wright. "At one point, we were separated, the wind separated us, and I remember not knowing what happened to her so seeing her was a relief knowing she was okay, I'm okay, she’s okay, the kids are okay.”

The elementary school had taken a direct hit.

“You first look over, and you know that is not a good sign," second grade Teacher Emily Eischen told us. "We are in such shock, didn't know what to do.”

A classroom full of third graders had crumbled.

“That's when I said are we all out, are we all good," Atchely said. "That's when she said, no, we are not."

Seven little boys and girls didn't make it out alive.

Five years later, Plaza Towers has been rebuilt - with storm shelters and memorials to the 'Plaza 7.'

The tragedy has become a training tool in crisis and trauma education statewide.

“I was in Taloga, Oklahoma, and someone came up and said our school has storm shelters now because of your school," Atchely said. "Those are the moments it's okay. We are saving more lives.”

A silver lining - in one of the darkest clouds Oklahoma has ever seen.

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