We Need Time To Heal: Remembering The 2019 Trotwood Tornado
This month on WYSO, we’re remembering the 2019 Memorial Day tornado disaster. This story brings us voices from Trotwood, where an EF4 tornado destroyed hundreds of homes, businesses, and apartments, and where many city residents are still recovering more than a year later.
When dawn broke after the tornado, life in Trotwood would never be the same. Former Ward Two Trotwood City Councilman Rap Hankins, and Trotwood Police Chief Erik Wilson say surviving the storm brought them closer as friends, and helping their neighbors rebuild over the last year has strengthened their pride in their community.
What follows is a transcript of their conversation, edited for length and clarity:
I've known Mister Hankins now for almost 20 years. It'd be hard-pressed for me to find somebody who loves the city of Trotwood as much as you do.
And nobody is harder on you or has been harder on you through the years as me.
This is true. Yes, sir.
You told me 20 years ago that the responsibility of a police officer is to be a part of his community. Right?
And I'm a man who grew up who didn't like the police. But at home, when I'm in Trotwood, the police are mine. And I knew when the tornado happened that you were going to be our protector. And you were.
For me, it's kind of hard to differentiate the professional and the personal. I've been in law enforcement service from the time I left high school. With the exception, I think, for seven years, that's all I've done. So, it's [a crisis] no time for feelings, like I'm not the type of person that when a situation happens you are going to find me in a corner crying. You're going to find me out there doing what I need to do. My training kicks in, it's just instinctual. My first introduction to the tornado from Memorial Day weekend was hearing the tornado siren go off, and a few minutes later the second siren goes off and I called back to the sergeant, like, hey, what's going on? Her demeanor was 100-percent different. It was, I won't say panic but I could tell we were about to stare down the barrel of something. I told it to get everybody back to the building and that I would be on my way. And I was very proud of the way the officers handled the emergency. And we were ready and we were prepared. I would see you in front of your house with all the people you had there helping you. I think we waved a couple of times and I knew you were OK.
It's one thing when you watch tornadoes and floods in other communities. But when it happens to you in your community, and your block and your home –– I have to be honest, when I walked outside and saw all the trees down, and smelled the gas. I stood outside in the yard and I'm not going to say I cried, but I was somewhat emotionally broken because I had worked 35 years to make sure my house looked the way I wanted it to look. And just that weekend, I had laid down mulch and we had put flowers down and we were ready for the summer. I said, the community is looking beautiful, we're ready to go and we can relax now. And then I wake up the next morning and it's all gone. I looked out the front door and my next door neighbor's roof is in my front yard. The entire roof is in the yard. And I look up in the sky and all I realize is that 35 years of growing trees in our neighborhood are gone.
That definitely bothered you because I know you love your trees. A big proponent of growing trees, Mister Hankins, is, the blossoms, the flowers. I started this new thing at my house after seeing all those beautiful flowers in front of our house. I went and bought a bunch of planters and I remember talking with your wife saying, hey, what kind of plants can I put in these things? And she told me and they were beautiful. And, you know, you inspired me to do that, you know, because of the person you are and how you kept your home. And I know that home meant a lot to you. I know it does mean a lot to you. And it is beautiful again.
There are days that I look at our community and wonder how much time this is going to take?
To look at that every day and look across the street and say, man, that's where my neighbor used to live at. Where's he at? How is he doing? I get it. We care about each other.
You know, even though I've planted 15 new trees on my property, as a community, I believe that we need time to heal.
Sure. Well, now think about it. You can look out there and see them 15 trees, right?
Now, give it 10 years from now. That little tree is going to be a big tree. It just takes time.
You can find more stories of the 2019 Memorial Day tornado disaster and its aftermath here.