Grandmother Recalls Life Of 5-Year-Old Killed In 1996 Tornado

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FORT SMITH (KFSM) -- Connie Johnson still lives in the same spot she did before a tornado tore her home apart. She rebuilt a new home on the same lot in Fort Smith on the north side of town.

Johnson recalled the day in 1996 when an F-3 tornado hit her neighborhood. It was on a Sunday in April. She said it was late and she remembers the flashing of an alarm clock waking her up. The electricity was out but the batteries in the alarm clock still illuminated. She recalled wondering where her husband Bob was. She said she walked into the kitchen and that was when she heard the tornado coming.

"I heard this noise like thunder," she said.

Johnson said she told her husband, her daughter Rosetta and Rosetta's son Kyle to get in the hallway of the home.

"Then, you heard a noise like nails being pulled from rock timber," she said. Johnson became very emotional as she described the home being ripped apart. She remembered the back side of the home was missing after the tornado had gone.

"Then, I hear Rosetta say, 'Momma what's happening?' and then she said Kyle's not moving," Johnson said.

Johnson said the neighborhood was destroyed, trees were down and emergency crews couldn't get to her home. Kyle, who was 5 years old, was unresponsive.

" One neighbor grabbed Kyle and took him up to the ambulance," she said.

Kyle passed away that day. Johnson said she remembers a blonde haired boy who loved picking pecans with his grandpa. She showed a picture of Kyle on a swing set. The picture was taken about a week before the tornado hit. Kyle is smiling in the picture with a chunk of hair missing from the front of his head. Johnson said the boy had taken the scissors to his own head in an effort to give himself a haircut. Johnson laughed as she recalled the memory.

She said she had to be strong for the family and make the arrangements for Kyle's funeral.

She said Kyle's mother, Rosetta passed away years ago from medical complications. But pictures still hang on her wall of a smiling little boy with bright blonde hair.

"Of course you grieve" she said. "That's part of it but then you go on. You make the best of what you have."