Local parents of LA Tech students react to Ruston tornado tragedy

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Property was damaged and two people were killed in Ruston as an early morning tornado ripped through the town Thursday. (Courtesy of Allen J.M. Smith)

By Stacey Tinsley, stinsley@bossierpress.com

Many local parents and loved ones of Louisiana Tech University students woke up to the shocking news Thursday morning that a EF3 tornado ripped through the campus and the City of Ruston around 2 a.m. Thursday morning.

Bossier resident, Shawna Pittman Broadway, is one of those parents who woke to her the devastating news.

Broadway’s son, Lannon, is currently attending LA Tech University. Lannon called his mother minutes after the tornado made its way through the college campus to tell her that he was safe. 

“He called and woke me up minutes after the tornado hit, telling me what had happened and that he was okay,” Broadway said. “I tried calling him back about an hour later to check on him and could not reach him, I was told that cell service was down. I finally spoke to him again around 9 a.m.”

After knowing her son was safe, Broadway and other LA Tech parents, reached out to each other through social media and phone calls throughout the morning to keep each other updated on the travesty that occurred in Ruston early Thursday morning.

“I have spoken with other parents. We all kept each other updated throughout the morning. We are thankful that our children are safe and are praying for the city of Ruston,” Broadway said.

Her feelings show that no matter if a child is attending college across the country or just an hour away from home, parents feel helpless that they can’t always be there to protect their children.

“Regardless of the distance from home, it’s scary knowing your child is in a dangerous situation, like a tornado, that can escalate so quickly. You feel helpless as a parent that you can’t always be there to protect them,” said Broadway.

Hearing of the loss and devastation to our neighboring parish, many local colleges have offered support to LA Tech university, including Bossier Parish Community College (BPCC).

“Many of us have offered to our counterparts at Louisiana Tech any assistance that they may need. Our Athletic Director reached out to the Louisiana Tech AD and offered assistance and usage of our athletic facilities,” said Tracy McGill, director of Public Relations for BPCC. “Chancellor (Rick) Bateman pledged that we will do everything in our power to be supportive and helpful.”

Louisiana Tech University President Les Guice took to social media in the wake of the tornado to say the core academic buildings were in “good shape” although trees were down around campus and advised the community to use caution.

“We are still assessing damage to campus due to the tornado. Power lines are down and a lot of debris is as well creating safety hazards,” he said on Twitter.

The storm ripped apart a scoreboard at Louisiana Tech’s softball field and left a few trees overturned nearby, including one that had fallen across the stands behind home plate. The storm also sent trees into homes and ripped roofs off buildings.

After traveling to Ruston Thursday afternoon to assess the damage caused by the tornado, Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency for the entire state. The declaration is in effect until May 25, 2019.

Union and Lincoln Parish officials have also declared states of emergency.

Gov. Edwards says there is still work to do, including search and rescue, and advises people not to come to the area if it’s not necessary. 

There were two fatalities in the Ruston area — a mother and son were killed when a tree fell on their home overnight. They were identified them as Remmington Butler, 14, and his mother, Kendra Butler. 

The National Weather Service said on Twitter that the tornado that hit Ruston was an EF3, meaning it had winds of at least 136 mph (219 kph). They can destroy buildings and rip large trees out from the ground.