One of the most gripping images to emerge from the deadly tornado that devastated the town of Moore, Okla., Monday was of a man in a red shirt grasping a young student in an emotional hug, both of them covered in debris and surrounded by devastation.
The story behind the photo is even more emotional, the story of a first responder who was the first familiar face the young boy saw when he realized he’d survived the EF-5 twister that killed 24 people Monday and injured hundreds more.
“I was so happy that I saw him,” the boy, Hezekiah Darbon, 6, said today on “Good Morning America.” “I didn’t know that he was coming. I thought my mom and dad were going to be the first ones.”
The “he” in the photo is Jim Routon, 47, a first responder from Moore who rushed to one of the most devastated spots in the city, Briarwood Elementary school, where Hezekiah is a first-grade student, after surviving the storm himself in a tornado shelter.
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“When we got to the school it was pretty much chaos and destruction,” Routon, whose three adult children attended Briarwood, said on “GMA.”
“People were just running in all directions, trying to find their children,” he said. “First responders were racing to the scene of where the collapsed walls were in the school and the children were emerging from the wreckage.”
When Hezekiah emerged from the wreckage, he saw Routon, his next-door neighbor, who considers Hezekiah his “part-time kid.”
“I think I needed that hug as much as he did,” Routon said of their surprise reunion. “The embrace that we had, it was a very emotional connection.”
Hezekiah became a “part-time kid” to Routon after his family moved next door four years ago. The pair’s relationship is so special that Hezekiah created nicknames for them, “Little Dog” for himself and “Big Dog” for Routon.
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When Routon got to Briarwood Elementary School, which authorities say received a “direct hit” from the twister, he saw his “Little Dog” was safe, with no injuries.
“It was very special, just to, when we came on the scene and to see everything, all the devastation, just to come on and to not expect anything good to come from what I saw and then to see my ‘Little Dog’ here run up,” Routon said.
“It was pretty satisfying to see something familiar and he wasn’t hurt, wasn’t scratched, bruises or anything like that,” he said. “We’re very blessed. We feel very, very blessed.”