Navy, Army veterans among those killed in warehouse collapse during tornado

Senior Airman Blake Anguiano (left) and Airman 1st Class Jonathan Lamb, 4th Component Maintenance Squadron aircrew egress systems journeymen, install an ejection seat into an F-15E Strike Eagle at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, Sept. 22, 2020.

Among the six people killed after the Edwardsville, Illinois Amazon warehouse they were working at collapsed in the wake of a deadly tornado Dec. 10. were two veterans.

Larry E. Virden, 46, of Collinsville, Illinois, was an Iraq War veteran, Virden’s girlfriend of 13 years, Cherie Jones, told The New York Post.

“He had a missile blow up in front of him like 200 yards away, so he was lucky over there,” she said of Virden’s time in Iraq. “When he was over there, he made his peace with the maker so he was prepared to die. But we didn’t want him to die now.”

Jones also told the Post that Virden had been ordered to stay at the warehouse until the storm had passed.

Virden left behind four children, three of whom are between the ages of 9 and 12.

His daughter, Justice, spoke with ABC7 over the weekend.

“I walked out of that building after they told me my dad was gone, and I dropped to my knees and screamed at the sky at the top of my lungs,” she said. ”I said ‘No, my dad’s coming home. I need my daddy. He can’t leave.’”

The warehouse, which opened in July 2020 employing around 190 people, was approximately 1.1 million-square-feet. According to Edwardsville Fire Chief James Whiteford, approximately 150 yards of the building collapsed after the tornado touched down around 8:35 p.m. CST Friday.

Also killed was Navy veteran Clayton Lynn Cope, 29, of Alton, Illinois.

According to a report by Fox News, Cope spent his last moments getting his coworkers to take shelter before the roof collapsed.

“He was always willing to give out a helping hand or lend an ear and give out advice to anybody that ever needed it,” Cope’s friend Leighton Grothaus told Fox News. “He’d go out of his way to do anything for anyone. He was just that type of guy and it’s truly devastating to have this loss right now.”

According to his LinkedIn profile, Cope served in the Navy for four years as an aviation electronics technician and travel management manager aboard the Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier.

The Illinois tornado, with winds reaching up to 155 miles-per-hour, was one of many that tore through Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi and Missouri Friday night. At least 64 people were killed in Kentucky alone, though officials believe the death toll will be lower than initially feared since it appeared many more people escaped a candle factory in Mayfield, Kentucky, than first thought.

In addition to the deaths in Kentucky and Illinois, there were four deaths in Tennessee; two in Arkansas, where a nursing home was destroyed and the governor said workers shielded residents with their own bodies; and two in Missouri.

The Edwardsville tornado ripped the roof off the warehouse, causing some of the concrete walls to collapse on and around the workers taking shelter inside. Forty-five people survived, and only one person had to be airlifted to the regional hospital, Whiteford said in a press conference Dec. 11.

Deandre S. Morrow, 28, of St. Louis, Missouri; Kevin D. Dickey, 62, of Carlyle, Illinois; Etheria S. Hebb, 24, of St. Louis, Missouri; and Austin J. McEwen, 26, were also killed in the collapse.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their loved ones, and everyone who has been impacted by the storm’s path across the U.S.,” Amazon Worldwide Consumer CEO Dave Clark wrote in a tweet. “We’re continuing to provide support to our employees and partners in the area and across the communities affected by the storms.”

Rachel is a Marine Corps veteran, Penn State alumna and Master’s candidate at New York University for Business and Economic Reporting.





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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.