It’s been nearly six months since that deadly storm. Now, we’re hearing from the littlest victims and how one woman is making it her mission to help them heal.
Meet the Ingham family… Chad and Tara, 11-year-old Gabi, 8-year-old Keegan, and 4-year-old Kason.
At first glance, you can see they’re a loving, happy family, but what you don’t know, is that they’re still recovering from one of Mother Nature’s most unpredictable and tragic events.
Tara Ingham said, “We were at church the day the tornado came through like a lot of families. We were not at home at the time."
When the family drove back to Washington, nothing could prepare them for what they saw. Ingham explained, "It didn't feel like your neighborhood. It felt like you stepped into a scene of a Hollywood movie."
The destruction was difficult enough for adults to take in, let alone, the children. “Normally, those types of tragic situations, we shelter the kids from and there they were, prisoners in the backseat of the car. "
Six months later, the children still struggle. Keegan shared what he remembers. “I just thought it was a disaster. It was like rummage everywhere. Our neighbor’s house, their water was just shooting straight out, out of their house."
Ingham explained what her four-year-old thought. She said, “He said for a long time that everything was crushed, everything was crushed."
The parents said they’ve seen odd behaviors, been asked a lot of questions, and see a constant worry in their eyes. “With our youngest, having some nightmares, going through potty-training accident issues when he was potty-trained at the time. Those, I think, are all direct results of the storm."
Gabi was out of town when the tornado hit, but she, too, has questions. “Why did God even let this tornado happen? That's what I think to myself all the time. But I know he's going to make good out of it."
Some of that good is coming from fellow Washington resident, Becka Richardson.
Richardson said, “A few weeks ago when we had our first big rainstorm, I started thinking about what kids might be going through."
That’s why she recently started an organization called “Operation Teddy Bear.”
She’s collecting hundreds of stuffed animals, or “storm buddies,” to give away to the youngest survivors. She said, “It's just a way of giving them something to tangible to hold, kind of empowering them to have something to ground them in the present and make them feel a little more secure when it is raining and storming outside."
For the Ingham kids, it’s one more step in the healing process.
Ingham said, “Operation Teddy Bear meets the needs of the children and not just for kids like ours that have a home that's damaged, but even for kids in other communities that are scared because they know what happened in Washington."
Though what happened in Washington, in East Peoria, and in Pekin has left a mark on hundreds of children. This family knows, with a lot of love, support and a few storm buddies, it’s nothing they can’t overcome.
Operation Teddy Bear has collected more than 250 bears so far and it’s always taking donations.
To find out how you can help, you can visit its website on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/OperationStormBuddy
Through this story, we’ve learned there are many children struggling to forget the traumatic memories of the tornado.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker at UnityPoint Health Methodist-Proctor, Erin Surratt, said she’s treating some of those victims. She shared some advice. “A lot of deep breathing and physical touch. I know it sounds weird, but a lot of little kids and even teenagers respond very well to hugs and it's ok to cry and be ok to vocalize those emotions."
Surratt said every child handles a traumatic life event differently. One consistency she sees though, is that many don’t want to speak up to their parents, because they’re afraid to worry them.