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The children in Moore decorated pieces of brick from their school's rubble to share messages of hope and preserve memories of their friends.

On May 20, 2013, an EF5 tornado swept through Moore, Okla., killing 24 and injuring hundreds more. At Plaza Towers Elementary School, seven children were killed. At the Hope Raiser station, a community healing group, families were given the opportunity to take a piece of their school, a brick, to remember that tragic day and preserve the memories of their friends. Xavier Delgado, 10, is a fourth-grade student at Plaza Towers Elementary School. He was inside when the EF5 tornado hit the school last year. “It was scary,” Xavier said. “I felt like I was never going to see my family again.” Xavier still has a scar on his lower back from a falling ceiling tile when the tornado hit the school. He needed seven external stitches and seven internal stitches to stop the bleeding.

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Athena Delgado, Xavier’s mom, says her son is still traumatized from the tornado. “He loves Plaza and he loved his friends,” Delgado said. “It still makes him sad that they're gone.” Delgado was at work when the tornado approached Moore. She had only 13 minutes to take shelter at home when it hit. After the tornado passed, she got in her car and headed to Plaza Towers. “We didn't get very far in our car and we realized that we couldn't make it any further because of downed power lines so we got out and we ran,” Delgado said. “That’s when we found out that it was as bad as it was. Xavier was still buried.” But volunteers managed to pull Xavier pulled out of the rubble. “We've all been through such a traumatic thing,” Delgado said. “Now my work isn't as important as it used to be, my kids are.” Xavier painted the words ‘Nic Nic” in red marker on his brick from Plaza Towers, in memory of his friend Nicolas McCabe, one of the students who died that day.

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Cade Newton, 9, was in the school's music room watching a movie with other students when the tornado sirens sounded. Cade and his classmates gathered in the hallway and braced for the tornado's impact. He was covered in debris, but survived unharmed. Newton’s brick is painted with name of his school, the saying “Moore Strong” and a biblical verse from John 3:16. It sits on top of the shirt that he was wearing the day the tornado hit the school last year. He calls it his “survivor shirt.” He says that when he grows up he wants to be a meteorologist so that he can know how to predict the weather.

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Zoey Tennyson, 11, has been a student at Plaza Towers since pre-K. She came up with the idea to paint the bricks when she saw the school's rubble being removed. Zoey asked her father for a piece of her school so that she could remember her classroom and her friends. He brought bricks back to the {Hope} Raiser tent and Zoey started writing messages of hope on them. The idea caught on. A dump truck unloaded hundreds of bricks from Plaza Towers for the kids and families to keep a memory of their school.

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Brett Tennyson, Zoey’s father, was building storm shelters at a school in Norman, Okla., when the weather started getting bad. He had no time to pick up Zoey from school, but he and his wife Lisa rushed to get her as soon as the tornado passed. A year later, he says it’s still difficult for Zoey. “We can’t get her to talk much about it and when we do she shies away from it.”

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Hunter Nunn, 10, got picked up just 10 minutes before the tornado hit the school. He went home and hid inside a closet with his family.

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Kasey Nunn, Hunter’s mother, was working when the tornado hit. “It was extremely terrifying,” Nunn said. “Nothing here in Moore will ever be the same, but we have each other, we have the community.” Painting an image of the state of Oklahoma on the brick gave her and her family a sense of hope in the midst of all the destruction, she said. “We were all there together, and we were all feeling the same thing, and it was a safe place. It was so very far from that, in the middle of destruction, but it did something to our hearts.”

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Isaiah Wixom, 10, dedicated his brick to his best friend Nicolas McCabe, one of the students killed at Plaza Towers Elementary. Nicolas lived just down the street from Wixom. They used to ride go-karts and play Legos together. Isaiah's brick is painted with the name of the school, the school's paw print logo and the years it was built and destroyed by the tornado. “It says Nick and he liked Legos, so I put Legos on it,” Isaiah said. “He'll always be remembered in my heart.”

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Isaiah’s mother, Rebecca Wixom, says when he went back to school his grades were bad and he had trouble focusing . “It's just a terrifying day,” Rebecca Wixom said. “When they hear May 20th, they think tornado and death, and losing their friends and their loved ones.”

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First-grade teacher Sarah Tauscher looks through pictures of her class at Plaza Towers Elementary School taken the morning before the tornado hit the school. She was reading "Charlotte’s Web" to her class when the tornado approached. Tauscher lead her class into the bathroom and lined them up in a safe position. The teachers in the bathroom started singing songs to keep the children calm and when the tornado hit, she held onto as many kids as she could, including her son, covering and protecting them from flying debris. “It was like a jet engine,” Tauscher said. “It just kept getting louder and louder and then the walls started coming apart and then the roof just lifted off ... I didn’t think I would make it out of there alive.”

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Tauscher’s son, Jackson Kirksey, holds a brick from Plaza Towers that he painted at the Hope Raiser tent. Tauscher says Hope Raisers was an important part of the Moore’s recovery. “It was kind of a way to connect with your friends, because all their houses were gone," she said. "It was a place where they could go and be with each other and do something positive.”

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Kaley, 7, Zoe, 5, and Sophie Kriesel, 5, sit outside of “Hope House,” a small children’s play house. The three girls were picked up from Plaza Towers just before the Tornado hit and rode out the tornado in a bathtub.

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This bathtub is the only thing remaining from the Kriesels' previous home, which was leveled during the tornado. Amber Kriesel and her husband sat next to the tub, while their three girls sat inside. “We lost everything,” Kriesel said. “But we all walked away together, so I feel pretty blessed.”

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Sophie Kriesel's mother says that after last year’s tornado, her 5-year-old daughter was afraid to open the door to their home because she thought that if she did, then everything would blow away.

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Kaley Kriesel is in first grade at Plaza Towers Elementary School. Her mother says loud noises like airplanes, motorcycles and the garbage truck reminds Kaley and her siblings of the tornado. “Noise became very scary to them,” Kriesel said. “It’s like something bigger than life tearing your house apart, it was just horrific.”

Adam Desiderio