The happy little boy who sucked on a bottle of milk Monday as his grandparents talked about the tornado that took his mother’s life was given the name Kyson when he was born last year. But since the twister, which tossed him nearly 500 feet into a field, Kyson has a new nickname.
“ ‘Tumbleweed’ is his little nickname a friend of mine kind of [gave] him,” the boy’s maternal grandfather, Doug Stowell, told TODAY co-host Matt Lauer during an interview from his home in Bethpage, Tenn., on Monday.
“He’s doing great,” Kay Stowell said of her grandson, who celebrated his first birthday on Saturday, five days after his mother’s funeral. “He’s just fine. He’s happy and he’s healthy.”
“No emotional scars?” Lauer asked.
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“No, sir, doesn’t seem to affect him any,” she said.
The Stowells’ daughter, Kerri, had come home from work on Feb. 5 to pick her son up from her parents. Lines of storms were rolling into the area, and the couple wanted their daughter to stay with them until the bad weather passed.
“We begged her not to go home, but she did,” Kay Stowell said. “And then around 10 p.m., she called me, and she said, ‘Mama, is the tornado gone? My TV went out.’ I said, ‘No, honey, it’s fixing to hit you, take cover.’ And her cell phone just went off immediately. And that’s the last I ever talked to her.”
The 23-year-old Kerri Stowell had taken refuge with her son in her bathtub, but a tornado — part of a cluster of twisters that would kill dozens across the region that night — ripped her house apart, tearing Kyson from her arms and carrying both hundreds of feet away.
When the phone went out, the Stowells got in their truck to get to their daughter, who lived just a few miles away in Castalian Springs. “It took us over two hours to go four miles from here to her house,” Doug Stowell said. When they finally got to where her house had been, there was nothing left standing in the neighborhood. “It was just all one big pile of debris everywhere you looked,” he recalled.
It was around 1:30 a.m. when the grandparents got there, and the first thing Doug Stowell saw was a local firefighter, David Harmon, cradling a small child in his arms. He said immediately that it was his grandson, but, he told Lauer, “I didn’t know for sure, but I just thought it was, and when I rushed to him, I seen that it was.”
Harmon, who was among a rescue team searching the area with flashlights, had initially thought that the tiny figure dressed in a diaper and T-shirt and lying face-down in the mud was a doll. He quickly realized it was a real infant, and scooped it up.
When Doug Stowell touched the limp boy, he immediately woke up, the grandfather told reporters. He put a shirt over the boy, who had suffered some scratches and a collapsed lung, which was quickly reinflated at the hospital.
Although devastated by the loss of their daughter, the Stowells feel blessed to have her son to raise. Kerri Stowell, a former cheerleader, gymnast and member of her high school’s prom court, had the child with her boyfriend of two years, Cory Noble.
She and Noble had broken up during her pregnancy, although they remained friends. She was engaged to marry another man this fall.
“Kerri was a very energetic, happy girl,” her mother said. “She loved her baby more than life itself. She worked hard. She tried her best to raise him. She was just a good little girl — feisty, and just a good little girl.”
She had been planning a big party for Kyson’s first birthday, and after burying her on Tuesday, the family held the birthday party on Saturday, because that’s what she would have wanted. Harmon, the fireman who found “Tumbleweed,” also attended.
“That was the most emotional thing I’ve ever seen in this life,” Kay Stowell said. “I owe him everything in this world. We can never repay him. We can never repay all the people for all the their kindness, their support, their prayers, their cards — and any donation they have gave to Kyson has meant so much to the family.”
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