To most, May 22, 2011 is just another day, but for others it’s a day they will never forget...
I remember the day so vividly it’s hard fighting back the tears as I am writing this, five years later. I didn’t lose my home, family, or friends like so many did that day, but I did lose my innocence. Even now it’s hard to fathom the amount of devastation and loss. My heart goes out to everyone affected by the tornado. These images show some of what I saw, minutes after that tornado destroyed a town.
My good friend, Nathan Papes, called me from the Springfield newspaper and told me there was possibly a tornado and to look for some damage. He knew I would be driving through and caught me only a few miles away. The tone in our voices were calm and relaxed. No one had reported any damage yet, so it could have been nothing. I wasn’t even a photojournalist, I was a sports photographer but the assignment seemed easy enough.
When I spoke to him next, my voice was trembling. At this point most of the medical response teams had not arrived and the ones that were knew as little as I did. All they could do was help the people closest to them. As far as we could see in every direction everything was destroyed or gone. My heart was broken. I wanted to put down my camera and search for survivors, but I had a job to do. The whole newspaper staff was counting on me. I was their only source for information.
I had a lot of firsts that day, all of them burned into my memory forever. As a photographer, this event was a landmark for me. It was my first cover story. The first time my images had a national audience. I only wish the images were of something else, something positive, so I could look back on that milestone as a proud moment. My only solace is the awareness my photos brought to the nation, and the citizens of Joplin got the help and support they needed.