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Dayton Brothers Recall Surviving The 2019 Memorial Day Tornado Outbreak In Two Cities

William Colston and his brother James Woody experienced the tornadoes together in an unusual way.
Jess Mador
William Colston and his brother James Woody experienced the tornadoes together in an unusual way.

On the night of the 2019 Memorial Day tornadoes, when a twister with windspeeds of 170 miles per hour hit Montgomery County’s Shiloh Springs area, 32-year-old William Colston was in the apartment he shared with his mother and sister. His 26-year-old brother James Woody was home at his apartment in Columbus. They experienced the storm together in an unusual way.

As WYSO remembers the disaster and its aftermath, we’re hearing from some Daytonians whose lives have been forever changed by the storm.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity:

William Colston: What's crazy is that, going back to when I was falling asleep, to when it hit it's a matter of like 15 minutes. So my life -- our lives -- changed in a matter of.

William Colston and James Woody: [IN UNISON] 15 minutes.

William Colston: And then it was just pure chaos.

William Colston: Memorial Day evening, we had just gotten back from Gatlinburg, Tenn. and, of course, you were on the trip. You know, I took my sleep meds and drifted off to sleep. And then our sister came down and she's like, get up! And so I go out the back deck and it is incredibly hot, like jungle hot. And it was just pouring rain.

William Colston: And I remember one of the meteorologists saying that they spotted a tornado in Troy. And then they spotted one in Trotwood. I go, that's like down the street. We didn't have a basement, of course. So the bathtub was the next logical choice in order to stay safe.

William Colston: My sister was where the spout was, mom was at the end and I was in the middle. I remember grabbing hold of both of them and telling them to hold onto me. It was dead silent. And then all of a sudden, everything just starts flying around crashing. The ceiling was literally flying off and it was flying off so fast you couldn't even hear it. I just go into instant prayer mode, like please God, protect my family. I'm just looking straight up into the sky, just like, please, please, please, please, please, please.

William Colston: All the while, I had no idea that you were on the phone.

James Woody: I heard you praying. But then I start to hear heavy breathing and screaming. And I have the phone to my ear, freaking out, pacing back and forth, I'm praying, I'm crying. Someone just pick up the phone, someone pick up the phone, let me know you're OK. Probably another 30 seconds goes by and Brooke picks up the phone and she says, the tornado hit, everything's destroyed. The only thing left is the tub.

James Woody: At that same time, there was a tornado warning in Columbus as well. I've never felt that way in my life. I thought my family was dying and I was going to die.

William Colston: When I found out that you were on the phone and that you could hear us, it just tore me up. It just devastated me.

James Woody: Driving up to the area and seeing what happened, it seemed like an alien attack happened and destroyed everything. It was beyond anything I've ever seen. Like, a giant lawnmower came across the city and chopped down the trees. You guys having to go through it and you guys were untouched is unreal.

William Colston: You know, I think I'm still processing a lot of things, even though I might say, oh, I'm fine. I'm okay. No, I'm good. But when I really think about it and I think about what could have happened to us, it just tears me up. I can't even imagine.

James Woody: So, I had I lived in Columbus already and you were already planning on coming to Columbus anyway, so that just expedited the trip of all you guys moving up there.

William Colston: Yup.

James Woody: We finally got a house, but [at the time] I had an apartment that was two bedrooms and having all four of us in there. There was my dog, two cats and four of us and a two-bedroom apartment. And we were OK with just coexisting at that moment and just knowing we're going to be on top of each other for a little while. This is our home. We're all together now. We have each other. And that's all that matters.

James Woody: And it's almost like a prayer that was fulfilled. We kind of had our own thing going on, where you guys were gone to college and had left the house and I did the same. Mom would always miss me or I wouldn't always come home. I'd just be too busy or -- we didn't come together very much.

James Woody: Thinking of what the tornado can do, turning something so bad and tragic into something that brings a light to us. You know, there are a lot of things that we've been able to do now that we haven't done in years: barbecues and bonfires and just sitting around talking with each other. And I think it's opened us up to understand each other a lot more.

William Colston: We are as a unit, individually, very strong people but together really unstoppable in terms of love. And I feel better now that we are all together.


Find more stories of the Memorial Day tornadoes here.