Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Father from St. Louis among Oklahoma Tornado Victims; Ex-Wife Learned of His Death While a Friend Was Driving Her to Disaster Scene

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Father from St. Louis among Oklahoma Tornado Victims; Ex-Wife Learned of His Death While a Friend Was Driving Her to Disaster Scene

Article excerpt

ST. LOUIS * Jackie Johnson heads back to Oklahoma today to collect her ex-husband's ashes and fulfill a promise he made to one of their sons.

Her ex-husband, Leslie "Peewee" Johnson Sr., 46, was found dead in rubble the day after a monster tornado ravaged Moore, Okla., and killed 24 people, including seven children. Jackie Johnson and their three children live in St. Louis.

"It's hard to believe he's gone," said Jackie Johnson, 36. "He left a family behind, and I want to have him back for my kids."

The morning before the tornado struck, Jackie Johnson had received a text message from her ex-husband because their 6-year- old son, Myles, was graduating from kindergarten. He told her to congratulate the boy and asked her to send photos.

She didn't reply immediately but sent him several snapshots several hours later.

Only one of the pictures made it through.

"I hope he got a chance to see it before the tornado came," she said.

After the tornado devastated Moore, Jackie Johnson could not reach her ex-husband and persuaded a friend to drive her to the disaster zone. She had no idea whether Leslie Johnson had survived. But she got a phone call during the drive from a family friend, who told her that his body had been recovered.

Even then, she held out hope that he may have somehow avoided his fate.

"I just prayed and wanted to bring him home even if he's handicapped," Jackie Johnson said. "I was just trying to look for him for our kids."

Once in Oklahoma, Jackie Johnson said she didn't know where to turn. She said she tried to go to the hardest-hit areas for help but was turned away. She said she asked emergency workers and volunteers and got conflicting information on where her ex-husband's body had been taken: to Oklahoma City or Norman, Okla. She finally managed to find the funeral home that had his body. The home gave her a discount on his cremation because she could barely scrounge money for travel expenses. …

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