South suburbs mark 30th anniversary of deadly Plainfield tornado

29 killed, over 300 hurt in 1990 tornado

Friday, August 28, 2020
South suburbs mark 30th anniversary of deadly Plainfield tornado
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Friday marks the 30th anniversary of the tornado that changed the village of Plainfield forever.

PLAINFIELD, Ill. (WLS) -- Friday marks the 30th anniversary of the tornado that changed the village of Plainfield forever.

Twenty-nine people died and more than 300 were hurt when the twister ripped through the southwest suburb. Crest Hill and Joliet were also affected.

RELATED: What if the Plainfield tornado struck today?

Church bells rang throughout Plainfield five years ago Friday, at 3:28 p.m. - the exact time the tornado hit on Aug. 28, 1990, as members of the community gathered for the 25th anniversary.

Plainfield residents are remembering victims of a deadly tornado that struck on this date 25 years ago.

The bells rang for every name, every life lost - including Stephen Hunt. He was a science teacher at Plainfield High School when the tornado blasted the school.

"His car was gone - the reason his car was gone, the wind was so strong and took it a half mile away. We thought he went home. Little did we know that they found his body under the wall," said Dave Rahtz, former assistant football coach, Plainfield High School.

Hunt died in the swirl of debris, as well as a school janitor.

The father of 17-year-old Leticia Herrod, who was killed in the tornado, was also at the 2015 service.

"It's a big hole. I didn't get to see her be a parent. I didn't get to see her go to college," said William Herrod, Leticia's father.

Leticia's 5-week-old baby, Tietaneea, also died.

"My daughter will always be with me in my heart. I will never forget her," Herrod said.

But as families gathered to remember victims, what also unfolded on that day is also a story of survival.

"I think approximately 150 student athletes were saved that day, and about a dozen of coaches," Rahtz said.

Seeing the storm, the football coaches told their players to head indoors and take cover in an interior hallway.

The volleyball team was in the gym when the head coach screamed.

"In this loud booming voice she said - get out!" said Lisa Klaas, assistant volleyball coach, Plainfield High School.

"I looked at the gym, and right then door flies open and all these girls come flying out of the gym - the volleyball team. They just got out. I see the roof of the gym go up and collapse," Rahtz said.

"The girls were stacked two, three high, and the boys were already there because they saw the lightning on the football field," Klaas said.

Within seconds, the school was gone. But the hallway was standing. The head football coach spoke up.

"I remember him standing in the hallway and tears were running down his face and he said, count your kids, count your kids," Klaas said.

They counted; every athlete, every coach survived.

"If there had been one more kid in that gym, we would have never got them out," Klaas said.

As they remembered those who died, there are so many more who survived, especially at Plainfield High School.

"All kind of little miracles happened that day, or we would have lost kids," Klaas said.

The first day of school was going to be the day after the tornado hit. Coaches say if the tornado had hit on that day, so many more students and teachers would have been in harm's way.

A block away from the school on that day, men carried two babies from the debris.

Sharon Friedl was babysitting a 6-month-old girl, the other baby was her daughter, just 28-days-old.

"My daughter lived, and it's a miracle," Friedl said.

"Angels, one or 100, I have no idea. But that's the only logical way to explain it," said Ed Friedl, the baby's father.