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Alabama church teen among those killed as tornado plows into high school

Katie Strunk, a 16-year-old member of the College Avenue Church in Enterprise, Ala., was killed Thursday along with seven other teens when a powerful tornado barreled into their hiding spot inside the science wing of their high school. Kathy Strunk, Katie’s mother, is a teacher at Enterprise High School and was a few classrooms away, hunkered down with her students. Her area was spared the worst of the storm’s fury, and she was not seriously injured. Keith Ellis, minister at College Avenue, also serves as chaplain for the Enterprise Police Department. He accompanied officers on five notification visits, including the one made to Dirk and Kathy Strunk. “We’ve never had anything as devastating as this happen,” said Ellis, who has worked with the College Avenue church for 13 years and with the police department for 10.
“As tough as this is, though, we’re grateful for the chance to be God’s instrument.”
Another teen at College Avenue was hit by a falling wall and suffered cuts and bruises, Ellis said. It is not yet known if other members suffered injuries or whether church buildings sustained damage.
Katie, who turned 16 on Feb. 5, moved to Enterprise with her family last summer when Dirk Strunk accepted the head football coaching job at nearby New Brockton High School. She previously attended Alabama Christian Academy in Montgomery, and the family worshiped at the Dalraida church there. The Strunks also have a 6-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter.
Micheal Felker, her former campus minister, said Katie always had a smile on her face.
“She was loved by her friends and prized by her family,” Felker wrote on his blog. “She lived for her savior.”
Katelynn Hightower, a friend of Katie’s from her former school, is encouraging those who knew and loved the teen to post messages of support for her family on her Facebook page or at the group site, whose name is “ Katie will be missed!!!” Hightower created the group, which at last check had 255 members, on Thursday after learning of Katie’s death.
Katie’s myspace.com page will be kept open for messages, Ellis said, at least for now. Sixty-one messages were logged as of Friday, the first just hours after her friends began to hear the news of her death.
Ellis said the families at the 250-member College Avenue church are “heartbroken” for the Strunk family. “Right now we’re thankful that so many of our members came through the storm, and yet they’re devastated about losing her.
“Everybody is clinging to prayer,” he said. “We desperately need the prayers of all our brothers and sisters. It’s such a difficult time, especially for our youth group.”
Enterprise is located about 80 miles south of Montgomery and is a military community of about 25,000 people near Fort Rucker. Ellis said a family he helped notify Thursday had one parent stationed in Iraq.
Though the area was under tornado watches for most of the day, officials said sirens sounded just minutes before the tornado hit the school at 1:15 p.m. Students who hadn’t been checked out by their parents were to be dismissed at 1:30.
“It was in a split second that we sat down and started to cover ourselves before the storm hit,” 17-year-old Kira Simpson, who lost four friends to the storm, told the Associated Press. “Glass was breaking. It was loud.
“It’s like a bad dream. I have to keep reminding myself that it actually happened,” she said.
The burst of tornadoes was part of a line of thunder and snow storms that stretched from Minnesota to the Gulf Coast. Twenty deaths so far have been blamed on yesterday’s weather.
March 2, 2007
(Managing Editor Bobby Ross Jr. contributed to this report.)

Filed under: National Staff Reports

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