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Close to home: Christian reporter and son cope with loss of a friend

MOORE, Okla. — How do you explain death and destruction to a 9-year-old, especially when it happens at a place like a school, where he should feel safe?
I am firmly convinced that, without the prayers of literally hundreds of our Christian friends, my wife and I would not have had the wisdom to handle that conversation.
As a reporter, first for The Oklahoman and then for The Associated Press, I’ve covered my fair share of tornadoes. The sights, sounds, smells and emotions are all too familiar. But it’s different when it happens in your town. When your family is separated.
On May 20, I rode out the EF5 tornado with my son, Conrad, a third-grader, and daughter Alexis, a first-grader, in a neighbor’s storm shelter.
My wife and our 4-year-old daughter Charis were on the other side of town and also were safe, though I didn’t know Charis’ fate for several agonizing hours after the storm.
When I heard Plaza Towers Elementary suffered a direct hit, my heart sank. Conrad attended pre-K and kindergarten there before a new school was built right by our neighborhood. Seven third-graders ­— including several Conrad once had shared a classroom with — were among the dead.
One of them, Christopher Legg, was Conrad’s best friend in kindergarten. Christopher’s father attended Oklahoma Christian University with me, and his mother and my wife had become friends, brought together by their sons.
Christopher and Conrad had so much fun together ­— birthday parties, a trip to the circus, Nerf gun battles. Conrad doesn’t cry much, but tears flowed when we told him about Christopher.
Conrad served as an honorary pallbearer at the funeral, at which Christopher was remembered as a boy who loved pizza and popcorn and Saturday morning cartoons and who overcame physical ailments (including cancer) to play football and baseball.
Conrad usually squirms a lot during church services, but he paid close attention at his friend’s funeral.
Many of the kids who attended the service left a trinket as they filed by Christopher’s casket. Conrad chose one of the Nerf gun bullets he and Christopher used to play with. Their soft hearts reminded me of why Jesus said that we must become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven.
Christopher had a perpetual smile on his face and a kind heart — right up to his last moments on Earth. As the tornado approached, a friend of his was scared, and Christopher went to offer comfort, putting himself in harm’s way. That was the Christopher I knew.
Christopher’s family — like so many others in Moore and south Oklahoma City — lost their homes in the tornado. But folks here still have our faith, and we are determined to come out stronger on the other side from this tragedy.
Our drive to our church’s building in south Oklahoma City takes us through some heavily damaged areas. After our family worked a shift at our church’s relief center on the Sunday after the tornado, our 4-year-old daughter asked us, “Why did the tornado knock down all the houses?”
I told her that a lot of grown-ups have the same question, but that no matter what the answer, Jesus would want us to help the people who are hurting and struggling right now.
So that’s what we will try to do.
MURRAY EVANS is Oklahoma Christian University’s assistant athletic director for media relations. He and his family attend the Oakcrest Church of Christ.

Filed under: National

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