Nightly News   |  May 23, 2011

Recent Joplin H.S. grads fear loss of classmate

Just after the senior class from Joplin high school celebrated their graduation, a tornado tore their town apart, killing at least 116 people. One of their classmates is still missing. NBC's Kevin Tibbles reports.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor (Joplin, Missouri): earthscape here, there really is no figuring out how people survived, block upon block of what used to look like Joplin , Missouri . Yesterday was graduation day for Joplin High School . They had it at another location, the nearby college campus. There is no Joplin High School left. In fact, they have canceled the entire remaining school year here. We have the story of that high school from NBC 's Kevin Tibbles .

KEVIN TIBBLES reporting: When the sky went black and came crashing down, it tore the Joplin High School apart.

Mr. KERRY SACHETTA: The office was right here.

TIBBLES: Today, principal Kerry Sachetta came to see if anything could be salvaged.

Mr. SACHETTA: It was just utter devastation. The gymnasium's down completely.

TIBBLES: The school's auditorium is wrecked, its music rooms collapsed. Sunday was supposed to be a happy day. Sarah Stickland and the other seniors had just celebrated graduation across town from their school in a larger space that could accommodate parents and friends.

Ms. SARAH STICKLAND: And I knew it would kind of be like, you know, the last time I'd walk through those doors as a high school student, but I didn't literally think it would be the last time I'd walk through these doors.

TIBBLES: Today, Evan Menke says he's lucky to be alive. He was in his car driving home after the ceremony when the windows blew in and glass flew everywhere.

Mr. EVAN MENKE: The tree fell on the hood, and we think that if that didn't happen we would have been dead. We're very lucky to be alive.

TIBBLES: At just 18, he contemplated dying.

Mr. MENKE: I just thought the whole time, like, I hope it doesn't hurt.

TIBBLES: Now students and staff don't know where to begin as reality slowly sets in.

Mr. SACHETTA: As every hour goes by, it just gets -- it just gets more difficult to deal with.

TIBBLES: And while Evan and his family managed to survive, Brian , a friend traveling just in front of them seems to have been pulled out of his car by this storm. They're still searching for him tonight. Brian :

WILLIAMS: I don't need to tell you what a huge local landmark that high school is or was, along with this hospital, all of it. Kevin