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Butterflies: Symbol of the Tornado Anniversary and Hope for Surv - KOAM TV 7

Butterflies: Symbol of the Tornado Anniversary and Hope for Survivors with Spiritual Connection

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JOPLIN, MISSOURI -

This year's tornado anniversary focuses on recovery and an image popping up everywhere is the butterfly. It was chosen by the Joplin Proud committee to symbolize the rebirth of the community.

     But butterflies have several meanings for those involved in the tornado including a spiritual one. 

"I knew either God was gonna take us or   he was gonna leave us to do something great," said Mason Lillard who was just ten years old when she experienced the Joplin tornado.

 She now has a horse named angel. A not so strange coincidence after her experience. Mason rode out the tornado in a crushed truck in front of home depot. She was impaled by a steel angle iron. It went through her  right  shoulder, broke seven ribs, punctured her lower lung and came out her back a fourth of an inch from her spine and a fourth of an inch away from her liver.

Lillard said, "I’ve had thirteen surgeries all together. I’m doing pretty good. I enjoy cheer leading and playing softball with our Jasper softball team."

Her survival to many seems miraculous. But Mason's said she and her cousin Lage were protected.

"I felt something touch my right arm.  I looked up and there was two angels in the back seat. One by me. One by him. One with blonde hair. One with brown hair. I saw their wings and white robes and their hair. I never saw their face or any of that."

It’s what she believes younger children called the butterfly people.

Lillard said, "I thought it was really sweet. I know that most of them were little kids. Their parents were protecting them, one his dad was laying over him and he saw butterfly people, is what some of them call it. I thought it was adorable. They probably weren't old enough to realize angels watching over me, but white butterflies are actually a sign of hope."

An angel image is found at the heart of a giant butterfly painted by Jason Brookshire for the 5th tornado anniversary. It sits in front of Mason Woodard Mortuary.

Brookshire said, "There's a lot of emotional attachment  to the tornado. Me personally, I lost my grandmother. We lost our landlord to the other shop. We went, I think to six funerals in four days.  The whole time I was doing that, I was trying to do the best job I could. I knew it would be in the public eye. I knew it would be seen. I know we wanted to do little angels on it cause they're kind of representative of the tornado survivors."

The air brush painter has been commissioned to paint several more. Brookshire said it’s labor intensive but people see something special in the butterflies.

Mason Lillard says she used to catch them. Now like many others, she's afraid of storms. She said, "I have coping mechanisms. I listen to my music when sleeping and have headphones in so not too bad for me. I've kind of gotten over it cause I know I'm always protected, always getting watched over so. "

Sharing Butterflies with the Community

Water so powerful it cuts and out of the rough,  a beautiful butterfly begins to take shape at Forged Waterjet.   Butterflies to be painted soon by children, their parents and anyone celebrating Joplin's rebirth  since the May 22nd tornado.

Patrick Tuttle with the Joplin Proud committee said, "As the Joplin Proud committee started working on things, really the metamorphosis the butterfly goes through, this is about the 5th anniversary. About the recovery, about the events that happened at 5:42 and since versus 5:41 on May 22nd.  So we settled on the butterfly because of the stories people told."

Stories like that of Emily Huddleston whose  family was coming home from Joplin High School’s  graduation when they drove directly into the tornado on 26th street.

Huddleston said, "I just remember and upward jerk and being in the air and things just hitting you left and right."

Debris gouged her leg bone deep leaving a hole. She said, "I was bleeding so much, I was in my own puddle of blood. I convinced myself  it was over. It was done. That this was the end of the road.  And I would close my eyes and everything would be peaceful and I'd open them and I'd hear the screams.”

Then she said, “I remember a hand touching me on my left shoulder. It was just this overwhelmingly calm touch. I felt, I mean in no doubt in my mind it was an angel, just something I’d never experienced before. And I don't think I ever will again. It just gave me reassurance that no matter where I am, what I do, I will have an angel looking over me."

It wasn't until after leaving the hospital that butterflies appeared when she was at her family’s rebuild site.   Huddleston said, "I was trying to walk again.  There was nothing around us, no trees, no grass, no bushes, no flowers. I remember this butterfly came and  landed on my shoulder. It wouldn't leave me alone. I kept brushing it off. It would come right back. I'd brush it off it'd come back again. It ended up being two butterflies and they just wouldn't leave and i just remember it being this symbol of hope." 

Teen Maggie McConnell connects them the same way. "To me, I think they just are a representation of angels."

McConnell spent the summer of the tornado in classes at Spiva Art center where she was assigned to make a poster about,"How we feel, I guess, so we drew butterflies and we didn't know what they were for but they incorporated everybody's posters that we drew into the mural."

The lead artist of the Butterfly Effect mural in Joplin says it’s all about  metamorphosis and rebirth but some of the three hundred volunteers community members who  helped paint it, like McConnell believed butterflies represent something  spiritual, even angelic,  and they wanted it to reflect that.

McConnell added, "Because that’s, most of the town really had a connection to butterflies after everything happened, so it was really important they incorporate them into the mural."

A butterfly garden blooms with flowers in Cunningham Park and becomes home to butterflies in late spring and  summer.

And on May 14th, eighteen hundred wooden  butterflies will bloom with color when painted by citizens at Home Depot.

Store Manager Steven Gandy said, "Anytime we're able to be part of community events,  we jump at that opportunity.  Um, we still have several associates that went through the tornado so it really hits close to home for our associates." 

Associates like Karen Bowers who was working at home depot when the tornado hit.  Eight people were killed taking shelter there.

She's proud to be part of the progress made in the last five years using the butterfly as a symbol.

Bowers said, "I think it’s a wonderful idea. It shows re-life, rebirth and I think they bring the community together and shares an experience that once was tragic but now has become actually very memorable. Experience that we have overcome."

And all hope the butterflies will dot yards across the city like the stars of hope did five years ago.

 Tuttle remembered, "The scarred area, nothing was there.  The homes were gone and I think they gave people hope.  They saw those. There was something coming back. There's life. There's color and that’s the same idea as the butterflies. We're progressing, changing as a community, still recovering,  still moving forward, moving strong."

The painting of the small butterflies will take place Saturday, May 14th from 11:00am to 2:00pm at Home Depot in tandem with other activities. The Joplin Proud committee has a list of events on its website.

Click here for a link.

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