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Warren County bus drivers reunited with their students following deadly tornado

Lisa Autry

Some Warren County Public Schools bus drivers had tearful reunions with some of their students on Monday. It was their first time seeing each other since last weekend’s deadly tornado. 

The school system is delivering meals to students and their families, many of whom are struggling to just get by since the tragedy.

As a WCPS bus turned onto Moss Creek Court around midday, driver Rhonda Stamper barely had the words to describe what she saw.

"Just gutwrenching," she said.

Stamper is a regular in this neighborhood, picking up children every morning and bringing them home in the afternoons. Some of the homes she normally stops in front of are no longer standing.

"It's hard, it's emotional," Stamper said. "It's hard to believe the destruction."

Stamper radiod another bus driver asking her location as she turned into a neghborhood near Preston Miller Water Park, one of the neighborhoods hardest hit by Saturday’s EF-3 tornado that claimed at least 15 lives in Warren County, including children. They’re delivering food boxes to families who still have a place to call home.

Credit Lisa Autry
WCPS bus driver Rhonda Stamper delivers lunch to students and their families in one of the neighborhoods hit hardest by the tornado.

Chuck Cato, a bus driver and trainer for WCPS, checked on  how families there were doing. "How many children do you have? How many adults? Do you all have electricity, lights?", he asked. 

The storms left many without power and unable to cook food. Jasmine Wilson who  has two step-children, ages 15 and 17, was grateful for the box of food delivered to her door.

"It's really hard, especially when you don't have means to heat it up or a way to prepare it, so it's a blessing we got some non-perishable items," Wilson told WKU Publi Radio.

The bus drivers canvassed this neighborhood at midday after making a breakfast run earlier in the day. They carried cardboard boxes with food and packages of bottled water door to door.

"Hi, girl!," Stamper exclaimed as she ran up to a student who's a regular pick-up on her route. "What are you doing?"

She was eager to be reunited with the girl and her sister, both elementary age. She hugged them and sighed in relief.

"I'm so glad you're okay," Stamper said. "You want some meals?"

The students were just as excited to see a kind and familiar face in a time of upheaval and uncertainty. 

Credit Lisa Autry
WCPS bus driver Lana Spears holds a picture of four-year-old Nyles Brown, one of the students along her route, who was unaccounted for after the tornado.

Warren County schools canceled classes for the week, and with Christmas break the following two weeks, these bus drivers won’t see their students again until the new year.

Not every bus driver is getting a reunion.  Lana Spears has been driving this route for three years. Some of these kids are like her own.  She’s in disbelief as she looks at what used to be the home of two students who are unaccounted for following the tornado. 

"A preschooler and a middle school child, and their house is gone, just a pile of rubble," Spears observed in disbelief.

Spears said she’d been told the siblings are missing along with their parents, and that an older child was found deceased.

"It's hard because you see these children every day, a.m. and p.m., and you develop a relationship and you know a lot about them," Spears told WKU Public Radio.

Spears held a school picture of the preschooler, Nyles Brown, 4, in a peach-colored polo shirt with a wide grin.

Credit Lisa Autry
WCPS bus driver Lana Spears picked up two children each day at this site of where a home once stood. Both children, and their parents, were missing after the tornado. The Warren County Coroner's Office later confirmed the deaths of the entire family.

"My heart is broken, it's just broken," she said.

Hours later, Warren County Coronor Kevin Kirby released the names of the 15 people who perished in the tornado. Bus driver Lana Spears' worst fears were confirmed. On the list was four-year-old Nyles Brown, his sister Nariah Brown, his brother Nolynn, and parents Steven and Rachel Brown.

Lisa is a Scottsville native and WKU alum. She has worked in radio as a news reporter and anchor for 18 years. Prior to joining WKU Public Radio, she most recently worked at WHAS in Louisville and WLAC in Nashville. She has received numerous awards from the Associated Press, including Best Reporter in Kentucky. Many of her stories have been heard on NPR.
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