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Local 2011 tornado victims memorialized in book

Andrea Williamson

Hartselle Enquirer

One book is helping to memorialize the lives of two local students who were killed during the tornadoes that came through Tuscaloosa on April 27, 2011.

Kim H. Cross published What Stands in a Storm: Three Days in the Worst Superstorm to Hit the South’s Tornado Valley earlier this year. The book chronicles the stories of Decatur native Danielle Downs, Priceville native Will Stevens and Downs’ roommate Loryn Brown, who lost their lives during the storm. The non-fiction book also weaves in the lives of meteorologists and emergency workers who were involved.

The project began when Cross, an editor-at-large for Southern Living magazine’s travel section, decided to write a book about the storms that swept across the South. Downs’ cousin, who attended school with Cross, had begun writing a blog about Downs. After reading the blog, Cross contacted Downs’ family and later met with the families of Stevens and Brown.

According to Cross’ website, she conducted research for the book through interviews with the families and other people, videos, time-stamped text messages and social media posts and emergency radio transmission recordings.

According to Downs’ mother, Terry Downs, the project was initially painful for their family. However, although they are still learning to live without their daughter, the book process was therapeutic for them.

“It was traumatic,” Terry said. “We had to reopen all of those memories, but it was healing. We began to appreciate everyone who had helped us.”

Terry emphasized the importance of the people who responded after the storms, including students, volunteers from other states and nations and the highly-organized emergency responders in Tuscaloosa. She said Danielle’s favorite parts of Tuscaloosa were the people and the way that they would come together to help others. The devastating storm gave their family a chance to see the Tuscaloosa residents in action.

“I guess the worst of times brings out the best of people,” Terry said.

However, the book does not just recognize those who responded after the storm. It also serves as a memorial to the lives of the young people who were lost and the visions that they had for their lives. According to her mother, Danielle was a senior social work major, and she planned to help soldiers while working on an army base.

“We want to emphasize what they accomplished in the past, present and the future,” Terry said. “Through showing what they accomplished, the book can encourage people and remind them what they can accomplish in their own lives.”

The book has been sold through Barnes and Noble, Amazon and Books-A-Million, and the book has received positive reviews from its readers, according to Terry.