Solemnity reigns at service for tornado victims


EDWARDSVILLE – The weather outside Friday morning mirrored the mood inside the city’s public safety building – somber.

The City of Edwardsville hosted a community memorial service for the six people who died in the tornado that struck the Amazon warehouse in town on Dec. 10. Originally scheduled to be held in Governors’ Plaza, it took place in the fire departments’ vehicle bay due to scattered rain showers in the area and a forecast for more rain.

At least 75 people sat on folding chairs facing a podium and portable speakers while almost as many city employees, elected officials and others stood in a loose ring around the perimeter of the proceedings.

Camera shutters fired and clicked as Mayor Art Risavy made his way over to some of the victims’ family members who had gathered in one corner. He then headed for the podium.

“On Dec. 10, devastating storms raged across Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee. We gather today in remembrance of the lives that were lost on that tragic evening. An EF-3 tornado took the lives of six individuals working at the Amazon warehouse while destroying most of the facility. 

“The tragic event took the lives of:

•    De’Andre Morrow    St. Louis        28
•    Kevin Dickey          Carlyle            62
•    Clayton Cope          Alton               29
•    Etheria Hebb          St. Louis          34
•    Larry Virden          Collinsville      46
•    Austin McEwen     Edwardsville    26

“These six individuals went to work that day like many of us but did not have the opportunity to return home. We want the families and friends of these six individuals to know that the City of Edwardsville mourns with them. 

“We want you to know that we are here for you. Edwardsville is a close, tight-knit community. When the time came, the community responded with support. Today, in honor and memory of the victims, we have planted a dogwood tree, that has been graciously donated by [former mayor] Hal Patton to the City of Edwardsville. This tree has been planted here at our public safety building, which is the site where many of our first responders received the call to action that fateful evening. 

“This tree will serve in remembrance of the six lives lost that evening. The wreath has been placed at the base of the tree in support of our community. 

“In the spring, we will dedicate a plaque to be placed at the tree that will read, ‘May the lives of the Amazon warehouse tornado victims continue to bloom within our memories,’ followed by the names of the six individuals that were lost. 

“We, as a city, are thankful for all of our first responders who saved lives that night and continued to work diligently to ensure the safety of the facility. Their hard work and dedication to the city is something that makes Edwardsville a special place. I also want to thank the Metro-East and St. Louis communities for answering the call.”

State Representative Katie Stuart D-112, also gave remarks, as she attended on behalf of Governor J. B. Pritzker. She read a letter from the governor. 

Senior Pastor John Shank from Trinity Lutheran Church then led the group in an extended prayer before the ceremony ended. 

Doug Garbs, an Edwardsville resident, attended the service. He can relate to the loss and the pain that these families are enduring. Garbs lost his son Ryan in 2007 after his unit’s helicopter crashed in Afghanistan. 

“These families today are suffering the same grief,” he said. “I know how these fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters feel about the loss, even though their loved ones died in a natural disaster, not during a war.”

People milled about after the ceremony, commiserating with each other, shaking hands, getting and giving hugs and wiping away tears. As the clock drew closer to 11 a.m., the bay began to empty as people went on about their day and headed off on their separate ways. In addition, another vigil or memorial took place at the warehouse site at 6 p.m. Friday.