MOORE, Okla. — After an anguish-filled summer, students returned to classes Friday at two elementary schools destroyed last spring by a deadly tornado that devastated this suburb of Oklahoma City.
The children of Moore were eager to reunite with classmates, but many were still haunted by fears of the weather and memories of young friends lost to the monstrous EF5 twister that killed 24 people.
Zack Lewis, who narrowly escaped the storm that took the lives of seven schoolmates, seemed to express the anxiety on everyone's mind when he asked his parents a simple, plaintive question: Who will come get him if another tornado approaches?
"He's a little anxious. He didn't want to eat," Julie Lewis said, wiping tears from her cheeks after escorting her son to his first day of fourth grade.
On the day of the storm, Zack's father plucked the boy from his classroom when the weather grew threatening, so the child wasn't on campus when the twister hit. The schoolmates died when a wall collapsed on them at Plaza Towers Elementary.
The EF5 tornado with winds that exceeded 200 mph also plowed through Briarwood Elementary School and destroyed scores of homes and businesses.
Counselors and five therapy dogs greeted students outside the Central Junior High School, which will share its campus with Plaza Towers students for at least the next year. Parents snapped photographs of their children in front of flowers, balloons and a banner reading "Plaza Towers Elementary School. Welcome."
School officials were hopeful that Friday's return to school would help students put the memory of the May 20 tornado behind them. Many people in town had already returned to a familiar routine, but not the children.
Students are still disturbed by heavy weather and vivid memories of the mayhem. Haley Delgado, 8, carries headphones to block out the noise of the wind. Her brother, Xavier, 10, says he is scared by loud thunder. And Ruby Macias, 9, who was trapped under the same wall that crushed her classmates, remembers the screaming and the crying.