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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

In tornado destruction near Dallas, a tale of a rescue attempt

BLUE RIDGE, Texas (AP) — The winds had finally calmed when Debralee King and her husband ventured out to check on their horses and see what damage the tornado that stormed through had caused.

As King stood in her yard Saturday night, she heard a neighbor’s scream. Then she saw Jose Daniel Santillano — shirtless, shoeless and running toward her with his newborn girl in his arms.

“He wanted me to take her to the hospital,” King said. “He was frantic. His wife was still trapped.”

With that, King was thrust into an effort to save what appears to be the youngest victim of a powerful line of storms that spawned multiple tornadoes, destroyed several hundred homes and displaced residents throughout Dallas’ suburbs.

King said she and another neighbor got in a vehicle with the infant, Aleya, and began driving. She could see the child was gravely injured.

“I kept saying, ‘Oh my God. Be OK, baby. Be OK,'” King recalled. “Her little hand was cold. I kept praying.”

She and the neighbor found a game warden about five minutes away, she said. He called paramedics and began CPR on the girl until an ambulance arrived, according to King and Captain Jim Moody of the Collin County sheriff’s department.

“She was already gone,” King said. “The poor little girl didn’t make it.”

It remained unclear Monday whether Aleya Santillano died in the tornado or had briefly survived, Moody said.

Authorities in Collin County, just north of Dallas and home to the tiny Blue Ridge, said they were still fleshing out the chronology. King’s account matched the details they had thus far, Moody said.

After Santillano handed over the child, King said, he rushed back to the mobile home he shared with his wife, Zuleyma, and three older children. King said she couldn’t see through the darkness to know then that the trailer had been blown about 50 feet off its base and laid in a pile of wood and aluminum.

First responders showed up and took the husband and wife to a hospital. He was listed in good condition Monday and she was in critical condition, the hospital said. The other children were not seriously injured.

Elsewhere in Collin County, Jerry Lee Brazeal and Jerry Funderberk Jr. were killed in a tornado in Copeville, authorities confirmed Monday.

Eight people were killed in Dallas County, including a 1-year-old, according to the medical examiner’s office there.

In Blue Ridge, a church volunteered to let the Santillanos stay in an empty parsonage while they recover, said Judy Phifer, a congregant and teacher at the elementary school the family’s older children attend.

“We all had some damage (in Blue Ridge), but it was all minute compared to what they suffered,” Phifer said.

King said she has been in touch with Zuleyma Santillano’s sister and mother. The family was too distraught Monday to talk publicly, the sister told King.

“It’s bad enough that the tornado took their home,” King said. “But to take the baby, too, that’s wrong.”

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