DEL CITY, Okla. - Twenty years ago on this day, emergency responders were desperately trying to rescue trapped citizens in the path of an F5 tornado that cut a scar through the Oklahoma City metro.
The storm was one of the largest to scrape the earth to date.
May 3rd, 1999. We were still learning the true toll.
The coroner had begun to count the bodies which would total 49 in the end.
April Smithee and her son, Baily, were home alone that day.
Their Del City neighborhood was directly in the path of the storm.
"We were in the bathtub. I could hear them naming the streets on the TV. I cranked it up really loud because I couldn't watch it. I remember them saying Bryant, Sunnylane... and I knew Sooner was next," Smithee said. "I could feel the wind, and I could feel the circulation. I remember thinking if I get sucked out of the tub what happens to him. I held him tighter and got down lower into the tub."
A fiberglass lifeboat was her only protection.
She grabbed a couch cushion from the next room. She held it tightly to their heads to soften the blow of debris.
"There's nothing like hearing your child scream for their life until the sound drowns it out."
When the storm was done, they were buried alive; not a single wall left standing.
A stranger pulled them out.
They walked away uninjured and grateful; touched by the kindness of strangers.
April had no idea at the time, but her son was quickly becoming one of the iconic images of that day.
News 4 photojournalist, Marc Dillard, had been shooting video of the Smithees' house.
He caught the moment April and Baily were rescued.
April gave her son a lollipop to quiet his cries as they walked through the debris with their rescuer.
She remembers friends and relatives around the world saw her son on TV in the coming days and weeks.
After the storm, the Smithee family re-built their home with a saferoom.
Baily grew up.
He joined the Junior ROTC in high school and the police department after that.
He has always wanted to serve.
Perhaps those seeds were sown during his own rescue.
Twenty years on, Baily now completes the transformation from civilian to sailor.
He graduated from Navy boot camp on the anniversary of that terrible storm, May 3rd, 2019.
Baily's memory of the storm has long faded.
But, because of an indelible piece of videotape, so many remember him as a symbol of the impact of that day.
Dillard is now a veteran storm chaser.
He will never be able to erase from his memory the way that frightened little boy found his way into the viewfinder.
"I just remember him with the lollipop," Dillard said.
April remembers the moment before Dillard arrived.
Baily was crying, and she couldn't find his pacifier.
She picked up a lollipop instead.
"I did not think we were going to live that day," April said. "I remember, I prayed and just asked God to keep His hands on us because if he didn't we weren't going to make it."
Smithee still gets nervous on storm days.
Dillard gets prepared.
He is still chasing after the storm clouds with the 4-Warn Storm Team; his way of serving and helping Oklahoma families prepare.
"We may have lost everything but we came out with our lives and that we're thankful for," Smithee said.
Like so many Oklahomans, they have faced down a monster and survived.
"People always ask me if I like chasing tornadoes, and I don't know if I like it, I just do it," Dillard said. "If I never see another one, I'm ok with that. Honestly. I've seen all I need to see as far as that goes."
In Oklahoma, we know heroes are born every storm season.
Dillard has witnessed more rescues than he can count.
Lifesaving is not rare in tornado alley, but it is extraordinary to catch up with a stranger whose path bravely crossed your own on an unforgettable day.
Baily Smithee is now headed to San Antonio for military police training.
He hopes to see the world with the U.S. Navy and eventually come back to Oklahoma to be a police officer and continue to serve the community.