David Cockrum and his family were building a new house in Jarrell, Texas when one of the worst tornadoes in Texas history struck the town on May 27, 1997. Cockrum said he'd heard that 400 homes were destroyed and anticipated that his own home was gone. Upon returning to Jarrell, Cockrum said, "It was really a strange sight. Everything was leveled..."
Cockrum's daughter, Angela was a student at Jarrell High School. School had just let out for summer vacation when the tornado hit, but she still experienced the tragedy first hand. "Out of my class of 40, we lost 5 kids. There were 15 kids total who died," said Cockrum. "It was a huge impact on such a small school."
This tiny community would never be the same. One entire family was killed in the tornado. The mother was a teacher and the oldest daughter was a senior at Jarrell High School. She'd just played the piano at the high school graduation. Cockrum says, "It's something you'll just never forget."
After the tornado, Cockrum and his family were uncomfortable with the idea of living in Jarrell with what felt like no protection. "That's when my wife said we had to get a tornado shelter," said Cockrum. The idea quickly caught on with other Jarrell residents and now, Cockrum runs his own business selling storm shelters. "We kept selling out before we could get one for ourselves. The neighbors kept wanting one," says Cockrum.
Nearly 50 homes in Jarrell have installed a permanent storm shelter since the tragic tornado. Community shelters were also installed at Jarrell Memorial Park, dedicated to the family of five who died in the storm.
There are things that even those of us living in East Texas can learn from that devastating day in Jarrell. "It's definately made me more aware of tornadoes," said Cockrum. "I was never afraid of tornadoes before. You always see tornado warnings on tv and never think anything about it. It's something that happens to everyone else. But now I get chills just talking about it."