Family Members Mourn Ja’Nae Hornsby, 9, Victim of Okla. City Twister

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Ja'Nae Hornsby, 9, with her 2-year-old sister Jia, in a photo taken over the weekend
Ja’Nae Hornsby, 9, with her 2-year-old sister Jia, in a photo taken over the weekend

She was a 9-year-old who embraced the joys of life, as demonstrated by her constant smile.

But on Monday afternoon, 3rd-grader Ja’Nae Hornsby, who waited out the horrible tornado bearing down on Moore, Okla., with her classmates at Plaza Towers Elementary School, perished in the giant twister—one of 24 people, including nine children, who died.

The Oklahoma Office of the Chief Medical Examiner today released the names of seven people killed in Monday’s storm: Hornsby, 65-year-old Hemant Bhonde and Kyle Davis, Sydney Angle, Megan Futrell, Case Futrell and Antonia Lee Candelaria. The medical examiner confirmed the victims’ names but has not released all of their ages.

As members of the little girl’s family gathered Tuesday at a Baptist church in Oklahoma City to console each other, their night of tense waiting ended with a call from the Medical Examiner’s Office.

Angela Hornsby, Ja’Nae’s aunt, said the little girl had just spent last weekend at her house, playing with her cousins and “doing what little girls do.”

“They like to play dress-up,” she said. “My daughter puts jewelry on them and I took pictures of them dancing together and they took video. They were just happy.

“She was always happy, always smiling.”

After he dropped Ja’Nae went off at Plaza Towers Elementary School on Monday, her father, Joshua, headed into Oklahoma City for work. But as the tornado approached the suburb of Moore just before school dismissal, he tried to race back home to get Ja’Nae from school and his two-year-old, Jia, from daycare, Angela Hornsby said.

But the highways were jammed. By the time he got to Moore, the school had been flattened, reduced to a pile of rubble. The parking lot had already become a triage area for surviving students being pulled from the debris.

He couldn’t find Ja’Nae. Along with other relatives, they hit all the shelters, trying to find her, “looking for answers,” Angela Hornsby said. She dialed all the hospitals that had taken the injured, but could not find her niece.

Joshua Hornsby eventually went to St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church, where a dwindling number of parents were camped out, waiting, hoping for reunions with their children.

“He would not leave until he found out what happened to his baby,” his sister said. “They received a call while they were at the church this morning.

“My sister called to tell me. They were just sobbing.”

Joshua Hornsby also lost his house to the twister. His youngest child, who was picked up from daycare by her grandmother, survived.

Ja’Nae’s mother died just last year of lupus.

“She was a good big sister,” her aunt said of Ja’Nae, her voice cracking with emotion. “She was just a good girl.”

Pastor James Dorn Jr. of Mount Triumph Baptist Church, who said he had watched Ja’Nae grow up because her grandfather, Henry Hornsby, used to be the associate pastor there, remembered her as being full of joy.

“She was a beautiful child to be around, someone you feel privileged to know,” he said. “She did well in school. She was just awesome.”