MOORE, Okla. (KFOR) – Storms often fire late in the afternoon when children are home from school.
Before May 20, 2013, administrators around the state assumed their modern school buildings would hold up.
The Moore tornado on May 20th changed everyone’s mind.
In the weeks and months following the deaths of seven students at Plaza Towers Elementary, Oklahoma schools vowed to build stronger.
News 4 followed along as Oklahoma began building safer schools.
Kaylee and Kyle Davis were really close, for siblings.
“It’s hard to process because it doesn’t feel like that long,” Kaylee said “It feels like yesterday.”
Kaylee sheltered in an interior bathroom.
Her little brother, Kyle, was crushed when the third grade hallway collapsed on him and six classmates.
“When we got there, my heart fell because I knew we was in trouble,” said Kyle’s grandmother, Sharon Dixon. “That’s a day I wouldn’t ever wish anyone ever have to experience losing a grandchild.”
Marvin Dixon, thought his grandson would be safe in his school.
“I’d heard all my life that kids are safer in school than they are at home,” Marvin said.
He dropped his grandbabies off at Plaza Towers Elementary, five hours before the EF-5 obliterated the building.
“I said, ‘I love you, Bubba.’ And he said, ‘I love you too, Pop Pop.’ And those those are the last words he said to me. I cherish that because I got to tell him that I loved him, and he got to tell me he loved me, and so that’s something no one can ever take away from me,” Marvin remembered.
Kyle’s mother Mikki Davis Fenwick has pictures of her son in every room.
“He was my husky boy; a blond haired, blue eyed angel,” she said “I miss him a lot still. The pain doesn’t seem to go away.”
Kyle Davis, Christopher Legg, Nicolas McCabe, Sydney Angle, Antonia Candelaria, Emily Conatzer and Ja’nae Hornsby died in their school.
Their families started the conversation about building better schools.
“I’m glad that my son was a part of opening up people’s eyes to see that something needed to change, but I still miss him,” said Mikki Davis Fenwick. “They’re all little heroes. (They) made a change in Moore, forever.”
In 2013, more than half of the schools in Oklahoma had no protection for students in a large tornado.
In the metro, a handful of districts had some safe places.
Five years after the tornado, school districts were already building safer.
Metro districts tripled the number of saferooms by 2018.
Today, there are more school saferooms in Oklahoma than ever.
In fact, many of the largest districts in the metro: Edmond Public Schools, Norman Public Schools, Choctaw Public Schools, Deer Creek Public Schools, Mustang Public Schools and Moore Public Schools have a saferoom at every school site.
Other districts are on a path to 100 percent protection for students and staff.
The plan at Moore Public Schools became a roadmap for future school construction across the plains.
Moore Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Robert Romines remembers the chaos of May 20th, 2013.
He had been on the job just one week.
“We ended up at Briarwood Elementar because we thought Wayland Bonds was the building that was going to be hit,” Dr. Romines said.
Dr. Romines never imagined his first years as superintendent would be focused on how to protect students and staff against severe weather.
“If you’ll remember when we met years ago, our our goal was to build back stronger and better than what we were before. But we would never forget,” Dr. Romines said.
In 2015, Moore Public Schools passed a bond issue to build saferooms in every school, and they did it with record speed.
Moore Schools has also increased spending so students and staff can have access to mental health professionals.
“We had students in our district that were broken. We had staff members that were broken. So, that’s been an endeavor, an initiative that we started years ago that we will continue to focus on,” Romines said.
The homes and businesses resurrected in the path of destruction detail a history of healing.
“A big, huge thank you to this community and our neighboring communities for stepping up and taking care of Moore Public Schools, and helping us in a really, really dark time,” Dr. Romines said.
Fortified by their own heartbreak, Moore came back stronger. They built back better and safer to protect generations of students from another tornado outbreak during the school day.
News 4 contacted the following districts in the Oklahoma City metro to confirm the number of school sites with a saferoom for students and staff during the school day:
Bethany Public Schools 4 saferooms (100% of school sites)
Choctaw Public Schools 9 saferooms (100% of school sites)
Crooked Oak Public Schools 4 saferooms (100% of school sites)
Deer Creek Public Scools 9 saferooms (100% of school sites)
Edmond Public Schools 29 saferooms (100% of school sites)
Harrah Public Shools 4 saferooms (100% of school sites)
Jones Public Schools 3 saferooms (100% of school sites)
Mid Del Public Schools 10 saferooms in 19 school sites
Moore Public Schools 36 saferooms (100% of school sites)
Minco Public Schools 3 saferooms (100% of school sites)
Norman Public Schools 24 saferooms (100% of school sites)
Oakdale Public School 1 saferoom (100% of school sites)
Oklahoma City Public Schools 26 saferooms of 61 school sites
Mustang Public Schools 16 saferooms (100% of school sites)
Putnam City Public Schools 14 saferooms of 37 school sites (60% of students with saferoom protection)
Shawnee Public Schools 7 saferooms (100% of school sites)
Yukon Public Schools 1 saferoom of 12 school sites (4 saferooms under construction)