Hundreds gather for Apison and Cherokee Valley remembranceHundreds gathered to remember friends and neighbors lost on the one year anniversary of the tornadoes that ripped through the Apison and Cherokee Valley area on April 27, 2011. The ceremony was held on Hamilton County Trustee Bill Hullander's farm in Apison.
RINGGOLD, Ga. — Christie and Mark Higgs sat side by side on the Ringgold High School gym bleachers with matching blue shirts as residents crossed the floor to find a seat.
The back of their shirts read: “There’s no place like home.”
Their shirts said what many residents felt as more than 500 people packed into the gym Friday evening to celebrate their recovery and mourn those who died last year.
One year ago and almost at the exact hour, residents were instead huddled in basements and closets as a killer EF4 twister traveled across the highway into downtown Ringgold, killing one. Both the middle and high schools were then smashed. When the tornado got to Cherokee Valley Road, seven more residents were killed, dozens more injured and left homeless.
But the feeling at Ringgold High School was pride. Pride that the community had pulled together.
“If you’re proud of the strength your community has shown, clap your hands,” Ringgold High School Principal Sharon Vaughn shouted through the microphone.
The room exploded with applauds and shouts.
A similar sentiment was how the storm caught people off-guard. No one expected it to hit Ringgold. They were protected by the mountains, according to the old wives’ tale that was passed down from generatio to generation, some said.
“It’s not something you’re expecting that you’re not going to graduate with two of your classmates,” said Samantha Greeson.
Two students from the high school were killed, Chelsea Black and Adam “Tex” Carroll.
But people felt that even though the storm hit by surprise, everyone united.
“Everybody helped everybody,” Christie Higgs said. “Color’s no issue, money’s no issue.”
And the theme throughout the ceremony also was gratitude to God for protection and courage. As the music blared over the loudspeaker moments before Vaughn grabbed the mic, the lyrics floated through the gym: “You give and take away, my heart will choose to say Lord blessed be your name.”
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...