Remembering those who died in the devastating Kentucky tornadoes

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A judge. A school board member. A deputy directing inmates to safety. Toddlers. Infants.

A system of tornadoes claimed at least 76 lives when it tore through Western Kentucky over the weekend, leaving destruction, despair and grief in its wake. Friends, family and strangers alike are organizing relief funds and memorials to honor those lost.

Officials are sharing the names of those killed in the storms that began last Friday night and stretched into Saturday morning. The full depth of the impact of the tornadoes is expected to come into focus as search and rescue efforts continued in different parts of the state.

Here's what we know about who died in the storms.

Nyssa, Niles, Nolynn, Nariah, Steven and Rachel Brown; Victoria Smith

Of Bowling Green

Seven members of the Brown family died in the tornado that hit Bowling Green.

13-year-old Nyssa Brown was found Thursday near the subdivision where she lived with her family. Other members of her family were found dead, including her parents, Steven and Rachel Brown (though her name on social media is listed as “Rachael"), 35 and 36, respectively; her siblings Nariah Brown, 16, Nyles Brown, 4, and Nolynn Brown, whose age is not immediately known; and her grandmother, Victoria Smith, 64.

The family lived on a street where 12 people died, including five relatives from another family and eight children. Neighbors who survived are grief-stricken — surrounded by ruins that include children’s toys.

Timothy Venetta remembers Nyssa Brown as a little girl who used to ride her four-wheeler through his backyard.

“I can’t imagine a whole family just being gone in the blink of an eye,” Jennifer Venetta told WZTV in Nashville, Tennessee. She and Timothy Venetta lived on the same street as the Brown family, according to the station.

Rochelle Finkton said her sister, Rachel Brown, enjoyed being a mother.

“I mean, she loved them kids to the moon,” Finkton told WSMV-TV in Nashville.

- Associated Press

Ernest Morris Aiken

86, of Dawson Springs

Ernie Aiken died near his home in Dawson Springs. A Vermont native, he was a veteran of the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne serving at Fort Campbell, according to his obituary published by Beshear Funeral Home.

Aiken attended mechanic trade school in Gary, Indiana, and ended up settling in Kentucky following his Army service. He was the owner and operator of Ernie's Garage in Dawson Springs.

"Ernie Aiken was a good man," his friend Joe Lovell wrote in a tribute. "He was a good friend to my dad and cared for my whole family. He was a man you could depend on if you called for help. He was a man of few words, but what he had to say always helped. He will be missed by many."

Nancy Son Menser wrote in a tribute that she's known Aiken since she was a teenager; he was very close to her two brothers. For years — right up until his death — he would pick up her brother, Randy, and take him to breakfast every Saturday. Aiken was like a father to her other brother, David, who worked in his car shop.

Several other friends and family members posted that he would go out of his way for them. He was a "heck of a guy," Sharon Jones wrote.

- Kala Kachmar

William 'Bill' Amey, Jr.

62, of Frankfort

William "Bill" Amey Jr. is remembered for his love of family and cooking, relatives told Frankfort's State Journal.

Amey was driving to work early Saturday during the storm when his car was swept off the road in Frankfort.

He helped clean the Capitol Annex, and legislative staff there have fond memories of him. Laura Goins, the spokeswoman for the House Republicans, told the State Journal she and Amey would swap recipes when they would see each other at the Capitol.

- Olivia Krauth

Robert Baldree

87, of Mayfield

Robert Baldree was a pipefitter engineer and a member of the First Baptist Church, according to his obituary.

A tribute wall on his obituary site is flooded with condolences and anecdotes from loved ones.

Judy Waggoner, Baldree’s sister, described him as a “smart, loving, kind and a gentle soul.”

“He would help anyone that needed it,” Waggoner wrote. “He was a Christian and I know he is rejoicing in Heaven with his beloved family.”

- Olivia Krauth

Alisa, Elma, Alma, Selmir and Samantha Besic

Of Bowling Green

Of the 15 confirmed deaths in Bowling Green, five belong to the Besic family.

"We were a family of 21, now it's 16," Selveta Besic said Tuesday afternoon.

Alisa Besic — Selveta's sister-in-law and a mother of three — died due to the storm, as did Alisa's 7-year-old daughter Elma and baby girl Alma. She left behind a 2-year-old boy.

Selmir, 6, and Samantha, not yet a year old, also died in the storm.

Another four members of the Besic family are suffering from life-threatening injuries and being treated at Nashville, Tennessee hospitals, including Selveta's two brothers, who each lost two children, and their younger 25-year-old sister, who is likely paralyzed.

"We were just shocked," Besic said. "One minute you're alive and just playing with them and then the next 15 minutes they are gone."

- Krista Johnson

Jenny Bruce

65, of Dawson Springs

Jenny Bruce served the kids of Dawson Springs for four decades, even after her retirement.

Bruce was a school board member for Dawson Springs Independent, a small district with around 500 students in Hopkins County.

She was the finance director for many of her years in the district, a post from the Kentucky School Boards Association said.

Sarah Kaegi, the finance officer for Murray Independent, said in a message Bruce was “sweet, kind & always ready to help.”

Bruce "always talked about her husband, her children, her grandchildren & of course, her dog," Kaegi said.

"She always had a smile on her face. I would like her family to know her kindness and her leadership stretched far outside the boundaries of Dawson Springs and she will never be forgotten."

Citizens Bank of London, where Bruce’s stepdaughter works, started a fund to help the Dawson Springs community in her honor.

“There are really no words to describe how much she meant to me,” Brandy Wiser, Bruce’s stepdaughter, wrote on Facebook. “While not my mother by birth, she was truly like a mother to me for more than half of my life. Her heart was unlike any I've ever known. She would truly do anything for anyone at anytime without hesitation.”

- Olivia Krauth

More from the USA TODAY Network:

Larry Burdon

73, of Caldwell County

Larry Burdon, 73, died on his farm in Caldwell County after a tornado leveled his home.
Larry Burdon, 73, died on his farm in Caldwell County after a tornado leveled his home.

Larry Burdon died on his farm in Caldwell County when a tornado leveled the two-story home he built with his own hands.

A retired pharmacist, Burdon spent most of his life in Lexington, but moved to Madisonville as he neared retirement. He and his wife lived in a trailer on the property while he built the house entirely on his own at his leisure, his brother Tim Burdon told The Courier Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network.

Tim said his brother was always focused on his health: He ate right, walked 10 miles a day and lifted weights regularly. Burdon was an avid outdoorsman who was planning to finish hiking the second half of the Appalachian Trail this spring.

"He used to joke that he would live to be 120," Tim Burdon said. "He became kind of a farm boy after living in the city. He just did what he wanted to in his retirement."

Larry was quiet, highly intelligent and loved the Lord. He loved his chickens, and often left eggs for his neighbors. Tim said his brother was full of ingenuity, even as a child. He built a radio as a young kid and communicated with people from Japan.

When he mowed the lawn, he drove a stake into the ground and connected it to a self-propelled mower in a way that it would mow a large circle evenly. Sometimes he'd watch and laugh from the house as passersby in their cars slowed to watch, confused about what was happening.

"He was a good brother and a good man," Tim said. "If he set his mind to do something, he would do it."

Burdon, his wife, his daughter and their grandson were thrown from the home when the tornado hit.

His wife was buried under debris and was being treated at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Neighbors rushed over to help, covering them with blankets and doing what they could. But it took more than three hours for authorities to cut through mangled trees so ATVs could take them out on stretchers.

"The devastation is unimaginable," said Tim, who has been at his brother's home assessing the damage. He said it will take heavy equipment like bulldozers and backhoes to move the debris, likely after the holidays. Teams of people have come out to help the family. Larry's wife is facing months of recovery; his daughter and grandson had only minor injuries.

A verified GoFundMe has been set up to help with expenses.

- Kala Kachmar

Devin Burton

21, of Mayfield

Devin Burton died working at a candle factory in Mayfield, along with six of his co-workers and a deputy jailer who was on-site.

He had only worked at the factory for a few months, his obituary says. Before that, he worked at McDonald’s.

"Losing you is the hardest thing I’ve been through,” his mom, wrote on his obituary site. “I miss you so much. I will always fight for you baby and I will continue to keep your memory alive.

“I don’t (know) how I’m gonna live in this world without you but I will see you again,” she continued.

A verified GoFundMe has been set up to help with expenses.

- Olivia Krauth

Richard Carlisle

67, of Dawson Springs

Rick Carlisle enjoyed traveling to car shows and building custom show cars, according to his obituary. Among the honorary pallbearers at his funeral will be “friends he made showing cars.”

Carlisle, who grew up in multiple states and Japan, retired in 2014 , his obituary says.

Outside of show cars, he enjoyed riding horses and doing mechanic work for those around him.

In lieu of flowers, his family is asking for donations to be made to the Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund.

- Olivia Krauth

Brian Crick

43, of Bremen

Brian Crick, a judge for two western Kentucky counties, was known for his sound judgment when it came to solving problems, a fellow judge said.

Crick was a district judge for Muhlenberg and McLean counties who handled criminal misdemeanor cases, traffic court and juvenile cases, said Circuit Judge Brian W. Wiggins.

Many of the defendants who came before him weren’t represented by attorneys, and Crick “was very good about seeing to it that their rights were protected,” Wiggins said. “He had a very common sense approach. He was very level-headed about how to handle cases and how to talk to people.”

Crick was killed when the storm hit his family’s home in Muhlenberg County. He is survived by a wife and three children, none of whom suffered major injuries, Wiggins said. “[Crick] was just a consummate family man ... very engaged with his children and his wife. They were number one to him.”

- Associated Press

Robert Daniel

47, of Mayfield

Graves County Deputy Jailer Robert Daniel was supervising inmate workers at a candle factory in Mayfield when the tornado struck.

Graves County Jailer George Workman said Monday that Daniel had been focused on the prisoners in his care when he was killed as the twister wrecked the plant.

The seven inmates Daniel, 47, was overseeing at the factory Friday night were part of a brand-new work program and had just begun their jobs three days earlier.

After the storm hit, the inmates told Workman’s deputies that it was Daniel who literally had pushed them all to safety, guiding them through a doorway and against a wall in an interior part of the plant. Workman said the last inmate through the door told deputies that Daniel was behind him one moment, and suddenly he was gone.

“It takes a tremendous person to be able to lay their own life down for somebody else. But he did and he was doing it for the right reasons,” said Workman.

All seven inmates in Daniel’s care survived, Workman said. Two suffered broken legs.

A cousin, Mark Saxton Sr., said Daniel was a native of the Mayfield area that was devastated by the storm.

“He loved his community,” Saxton said. “He was a great family man. Everybody who met him just loved him. He’s the type of person you want to be associated with.”

- Associated Press

Judith Elaine Davis

83, of Gilbertsville

Judith Elaine Davis died of natural causes in her home, likely related to stress from the storm, Marshall County Coroner Michael Gordon told The Courier Journal.

Davis formerly owned Catfish Kitchen, a restaurant in Benton, with her husband, Wes, according to her obituary published by Collier Funeral Home.

Marty Darst, a patron of the restaurant, posted a tribute that said he's had "many pleasant memories" visiting the restaurant and chatting with Davis and her husband.

"(She) just always had a smile and would brighten anyone’s day," Beverly Carter wrote about Davis.

Shiela Dunn, whose mother worked for Davis for years, said in a tribute that Davis was a great person.

She left behind her husband of 65 years, nieces, great-nieces and nephews as well as a sister.

-Kala Kachmar

Jha'lil Dunbar

3, of Mayfield

Jha'lil Dunbar, 3, was killed when a tornado hit his home in Mayfield, Kentucky on Dec. 11.
Jha'lil Dunbar, 3, was killed when a tornado hit his home in Mayfield, Kentucky on Dec. 11.

Jha'lil, who was excited to start preschool after his fourth birthday next month, loved Paw Patrol, playing with Nerf guns, doing flips and watching videos on his tablet, according to his aunt, Destiny Lashea Jackson.

He loved playing with his older siblings Damarion and Javion Noonan, Khaliyah Garnett and his 1-year-old brother, Julius Dunbar. Jackson said her nephew was loving, friendly and always excited to go to daycare. He loved his mom and dad, William Dunbar and Huda Alubahi.

Jackson said every time he ate, he said it was "bussin', bussin'," which is a popular TikTok phrase that means something is delicious.

Alisha Weatherbee, Jha’lil's second cousin, said he and Julius were at home with Alubahi when the storm approached. The three couldn't get to the basement so they took shelter in the first-floor bathroom. Alubahi's brother was in the living room at the time.

When the tornado hit, it pushed the two-story home off the foundation and into the house next door. The second floor fell into the first.

Weatherbee said Alubahi’s brother escaped the wreckage and was able to locate Alubahi and her children because he could hear Julius' cries. She said it appeared the mother and two sons had been trapped by the second-floor bathroom when the house collapsed.

A verified GoFundMe has been set up to help with expenses.

- Joe Gerth and Kala Kachmar

Jeff Eckert and Jennifer 'Lulu' Nelson Eckert

70 and 69, of Dawson Springs

Jeff Eckert and wife Jennifer “Lulu” Nelson Eckert were victims in Dawson Springs.

Jeff founded a book publishing company in Nokomis, Florida in 1988, according to his obituary. He enjoyed playing in several different bands from the 1970s to the 2000s.

“Lulu” was “Nonna” to her grandchildren, according to her obituary. She worked for an optometrist for 15 years and loved to travel and plan events or cookouts.

- Brittany Carloni

Matthew Ferguson

50, of Bremen

Matthew Dale Ferguson, 50, died in his home in Bremen during the outbreak of tornadoes that ripped across Western Kentucky.
Matthew Dale Ferguson, 50, died in his home in Bremen during the outbreak of tornadoes that ripped across Western Kentucky.

This weekend's tornadoes took Matthew Ferguson's life, his home and his two dogs, Leo and Chunk. Ferguson was kind, caring, reserved, down-to-earth and could connect with anyone, his cousin Jenny Prewitt and her husband, Matthew Prewitt, told The Courier Journal.

"He was the type of person who would do anything in the world for anybody," Matthew Prewitt said. "From the day I met him he always treated me just like a member of the family ... It leaves a pretty big void."

Ferguson was passionate about horror movies. He was an amateur writer and director, visited film conventions and hosted Halloween parties. He was planning to remake a low-budget horror movie, "The Devil's Playground," that he filmed in their grandmother's home in 2010, Matthew said.

Ferguson was a driver for Carhartt in Madisonville and worked on cars in his spare time. Jenny said since she lost her own father, she planned to ask her cousin to "carry on the tradition" and teach her son about cars, but she never got the chance. Ferguson loved his family dearly, she said.

Ferguson is the only boy of four, and the only one born in Kentucky. As a child, his sisters used to tease him about "sending him back" when they drove by the Greenville hospital he was born in. A few years ago at a relative's funeral, Matthew and their family laughed about a photo of Ferguson and his older sisters from the 1970s during his "Davy Jones phase," Matthew said. He had a good sense of humor.

- Kala Kachmar

Scottie and Meagan Flener

Both 34, of Central City

Scottie and Meagan Flener
Scottie and Meagan Flener

Scottie Flener and his wife, Meagan Flener died in their Central City home protecting their three children.

"They were amazing people who would give you the shirt off their back if you needed it," Sandra Flener, a relative on Scottie's side, said.

They left behind three children, Landon, Alizabeth and Kenni Lynn Lafollette, as well as many siblings and family members, according to their obituaries.

"They loved their family and friends with everything in them," Sandra said. "They were funny and witty and enjoyed hanging out with those closest to them."

Their 3-year-old daughter, Thea Flener, died in 2020. Scottie was a self-employed roofer and Meagan a homemaker.

"Scottie and Meagan Flener were two of the best people I've ever met," relative Sandi Flener wrote in a verified GoFundMe started to cover expenses. "They were my family and they will be forever missed."

- Kala Kachmar and Olivia Krauth

Caneilia 'Neila' Mae Gaither

78, of Gilbertsville

Caneilia "Neila" Mae Gaither died in her home Friday.

Gaither, described by friend Barbara Crouch in a tribute as a "fine, Christian, Southern lady full of spunk," worked for the Marshall County Preschool Headstart Program and was a member of the Pleasant Hope Baptist Church.

Kim Scott, who worked with her at Headstart in the late 1990s, said in a tribute that Gaither was a special lady who worked tirelessly advocating for the health and well-being of the families they served.

"She was the kindest person with a fun sense of humor," Scott wrote. "I felt as if I knew her family because she always talked about them with love and fondness."

Another former coworker, Andrea Powell, wrote that she worked with her for seven years, three of which were side-by-side in an office together.

"She was so precious... she left a wonderful legacy that will live on in the hearts of all who knew her," Powell said. Gaither left behind a daughter, a son, grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

-Kala Kachmar

Derek Gilbert

44, of Mayfield

Derek Gilbert, who lived across the street from the candle factory, died trying to find shelter, a family friend told The Courier Journal.

"Derek was a great guy, he was always fun to be around," said Katrina Spradling, who said Gilbert was like an uncle to her. "If he wasn't the butt of the joke, he was making someone else the butt of the joke."

Spradling's father, Bobby Wayne Spradling, was Gilbert's longtime best friend and roommate. She said she doesn't have a childhood memory he isn't in.

The night of the tornado, Gilbert finished working his first day at Ruler Foods, which let employees leave at 9 p.m. to get to safety before the tornado was expected to hit at 9:30, Spradling, whose fiance also works at Ruler, told The Courier Journal.

Before that, he worked with her father laying carpet, but an injury prevented him from continuing that line of work, she said.

Gilbert has a daughter and two sons — one of whom survived the direct hit by the tornado at the candle factory — as well as five grandchildren.

-Kala Kachmar

Jacob, Emma, Marilyn and Daniel Gingerich

31, 31, 7 and 4, of Graves County

The deaths of four members of a single Amish family drew relatives from five states and devastated the local Amish community.

Jacob Gingerich was remembered by relatives and community members as an honest, hardworking man, The Washington Post reported. His wife, Emma, was remembered for her smile.

They moved to the area last year and hoped to build a house where their double-wide mobile home once stood, one of Jacob's employees said.

The couple is survived by three children — an 8-year-old, a 3-year-old and an infant.

- Olivia Krauth

Rita Ann Gish

74, of Bremen

Rita Ann Gish died in her home in Bremen.

A lifelong native of Muhlenberg County, she was one of 10 children. Gish was a retired cafeteria worker in Bremen and a member of the Neals Chapel General Baptist Church, according to her obituary posted by Tucker Funeral Home.

She is survived by her two sisters, two children, two stepchildren, eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

-Kala Kachmar

Kathy Greem

77, of Mayfield

Kathy Greem is remembered as a caring friend who put others before herself, loved ones wrote on her obituary site.

Janice Riley said Greem was one of the best friends she’s ever had. The two talked Friday night, Riley wrote. They planned on going shopping, having lunch and having “a big time” this week.

“I am brokenhearted,” Riley continued. “I just can’t understand why such a sweet loving Christian beautiful woman had to go.”

- Olivia Krauth

Carole Grisham and Marsha Hall

80 and 72, of Dawson Springs

Sisters Carole Grisham and Marsha Hall, both Dawson Springs natives, died when the tornado hit. Though they were sheltering in a hallway, the two were found in the rubble several houses down the street from where they lived, CNN reported.

Both sisters worked at the local Beshear Funeral Home at different points in their lives. Hall was still a key staff member and had worked the whole day Friday until a few hours before the storm. She met with families, handled organizational tasks and carried out other funeral preparation duties, funeral president and owner Jenny Beshear Sewell told the Miami Herald.

“Everybody just knew her, and between the two of us, really, we knew everybody,” Sewell said. “When somebody would pass away, and maybe the name was familiar but they didn’t come up on my radar screen, I’d say, ‘Marsha, tell me the pedigree on this one.’ And she didn’t have to tell me a person or two and I knew who it was. And I was the same way.” Arrangements are still pending, but a double funeral is expected for the sisters, Sewell said.

The sisters were also known for their love of animals — a dachshund named Smokey and three stray cats they adopted. Three of the four pets were found deceased.

"Everybody thought the world of them," Hall's son, Jason Cummins, told CNN with tears in his eyes.. "They were the sweetest, nicest people who were always thinking about everyone else before themselves."

-Kala Kachmar

Carl Hogan

60, of Dawson Springs

When a tornado hit Dawson Springs, Carl Hogan was “a stone’s throw from his daughter’s house,” a GoFundMe organized for his expenses says.

“For nearly 24 hours, Carl was missing without any clue of his location for his daughters & grandchildren to start,” the fund’s description continues.

Hogan enjoyed spending time with his four grandchildren, according to his obituary.

His other hobbies and interests included fishing, Yellowstone and “his big jacked-up green truck.”

Along with his grandchildren, Hogan is survived by his wife, father and two daughters.

- Olivia Krauth

Terry Jayne

67, of Russellville

For more than 40 years, Terry Jayne operated Oak ‘n Ivy, a successful floral business in Russellville.

“Terry was always so grateful and appreciative of all of his customers and continued support from the community throughout his years of owning Oak ‘N Ivy,” a Facebook post from the flower shop said.

His daughter, Erin Jayne Decker, told The Courier Journal her father was humble and had a quiet strength that made him the family's natural caretaker, even though he was the third of four children. Jayne was with the love of his life, Debbie, for 51 years and married to her for 46.

Jayne was an Eagle Scout, a former member of the Russellville Rotary Club and a longtime member of the Russellville United Methodist Temple. His first job as a kid was delivering The Courier Journal newspaper in 1966, and 10 years later he opened his flower and antique shop. Jayne loved reading, sailing his sunfish boat, thunderstorms and University of Kentucky sports. His distant grandfather William Jayne was appointed by President Abraham Lincoln as the first governor of the Dakotas in 1861 at the start of the Civil War.

Decker said Jayne taught his children and all their friends to water ski on the lake where he sailed; he also loved spending time with his three grandchildren.

Jayne died Saturday at The Medical Center at Bowling Green from cardiac arrest during clean up from the weekend storms, according to the Warren County Coroner.

“Terry was incredibly thoughtful and humble,” his obituary said. “You only had to be around Terry for a few minutes to be touched by his kindness, generosity and the extraordinary love he had for his family.”

- Brittany Carloni

Oaklynn Koon

2 months, of Dawson Springs

Douglas Koon, his wife, Jackie, and their three children huddled in his mother-in-law’s bathroom in Dawson Springs as the storms approached.

The couple put their infant daughter, Oaklynn, in a car seat to protect her, and she appeared to be OK on Saturday.

But by Sunday, the baby was having seizures, and doctors noticed a brain bleed after she was taken to the hospital. They believed she had a stroke, Koon said in a Facebook post.

Early Monday morning, the family posted that the infant had died.

In a text message to The Associated Press on Monday, Koon said he was struggling “to process everything that I’m going through.”

A family member has set up a verified GoFundMe account for Koon’s family and his mother-in-law, Sheila Rose, who lost her home.

- Associated Press

Wade Lihl

57, of Cayce, Kentucky

Wade Lihl died at his house in Cayce, Fulton County.

He was a native of Fayetteville, North Carolina, according to his obituary at Hornbeak Funeral Chapel in Fulton.

Lihl was a member of the Pentecostal church, and his wife of 20 years, Holly Watson Lihl, said he endeavored to be a good Christian man.

He worked as a laser operator at MTD Products, an outdoor power equipment parts maker, in Martin, Tennessee.

In addition to Holly, Wade leaves behind a sister and several nieces and nephews.

"He was a wonderful compassionate man and a hard worker who never missed a day," Holly said. "He was always taking care of me. Life will be hard without him."

- Ray Couture

Richard and Mildred 'Millie' Lipford

69 and 72, of Dawson Springs

Richard Lipford and his wife, Millie, were married for 49 years.

A veteran of the United States Air Force, Richard enjoyed collecting guns, model airplanes and “anything to do with history,” according to his obituary.

Millie’s hobbies included crocheting, puzzles and gardening, her obituary says.

Her older sister, Dot Black, said Millie was her go-to person for advice, even though she was younger.

“She always had the right thing to say when you were facing problems in life,” Black wrote on Millie’s obituary site.

“I love them both,” she continued. “My love for them is eternal.”

- Olivia Krauth

Sonya Kay McChesney

77, of Dawson Springs

Sonya Kay McChesney was known for her generosity, faith and service to others. Her life was centered around helping people, especially her family, friends and neighbors, according to her obituary posted by the Beshear Funeral Home.

McChesney was born in Dawson Springs, lived in Oregon for several years, and returned in the 1970s. Before her marriage to Tom Williamson, she worked at Fox Lumber Co. in Nortonville, and then in the front office and shipping departments of Ottenheimer & Co. In the 1990s, she and her second husband, John McChesney, owned and operated a local laundromat.

McChesney was a longtime member of the Dunn Missionary Baptist Church, where she played the piano. After retirement, she spent much of her time with her children and grandchildren in Lexington and Ithaca, New York.

-Kala Kachmar

Say Meh

42, of Bowling Green

Say Meh was one of 16 people who died from storm-related injuries in Warren County over the weekend. Meh died at the Medical Center at Bowling Green, according to the Warren County coroner.

Meh, a refugee from Burma, was in the process of studying to become a U.S. citizen, according to a verified GoFundMe page to support her family.

“Say Meh loved life and never met a stranger,” the GoFundMe page said. “Her tireless spirit and her charming smile will be missed.”

- Brittany Carloni

Billy and Judy Miller

73 and 72, of Muhlenberg County

Gov. Andy Beshear said his uncle, Ed Miller, of Versailles, lost two cousins in Muhlenberg County during the tornado.

Miller, who visited Muhlenberg County with Beshear on Tuesday, said his relatives who died were his first cousin, Billy Miller and his wife, Judy Miller. They were farmers who lived in the Millport community.

“They were very close to me, from the standpoint when I come back into the area, all my brothers and sisters take and spend a weekend with me when I come down here. Everybody comes in to have a meal together, to socialize, cousins come around, I go back to the church I was raised in and everybody’s there,” Ed Miller said.

Billy and Judy had been married for 56 years, granddaughter Haley Burton told the Washington Post. She said they were found side-by-side on their property near hard-hit Bremen.

- Debby Yetter

Jill Monroe

52, of Mayfield

In Jill Monroe’s final moments, she was working to keep others safe.

When it became clear that a tornado was headed for the Mayfield candle factory where she worked, coworkers told her family, she helped direct folks to an interior bathroom where they could take shelter.

During that same time, her sister Heather McGuffin says, she was texting family back in Oldham County to make sure they were keeping an eye on the storms moving through Kentucky.

“That’s who she was ... She would have run out in front of the tornado to help save somebody else,” her son, Chris Chism, said Tuesday afternoon.

Chism and his wife, Paige Tingle, were the ones who drove to Mayfield in the wake of the storm to try to find out what happened to his mother and “best friend.” They ultimately found out from the Graves County coroner that she didn’t survive the storm.

Monroe is one of eight candle factory employees who is confirmed to have died in Friday’s tornado, which decimated the town of Mayfield. The company that owns the factory, Mayfield Consumer Products, has said the other 102 people who were in the factory that night have been found alive, but state officials have not confirmed that information.

Monroe had only been at the facility for three or four months, her family said. She moved to Mayfield for a “fresh start,” according to Chism, and a chance to connect with her birth family’s community – she was adopted at a young age and found her biological family a few years ago.

While in Mayfield, Chism and Tingle were able to collect some of the Christmas presents she had already bought for her family. They’ll be under the tree Christmas morning, especially the ones marked “from Mimi” for the couple’s three children.

“That’s what she’d want,” Chism said. “Christmas was all about watching her babies open their presents.”

The biggest holiday surprise Monroe had planned for her family won’t happen, though.

She was, her coworkers told Chism, to move back to Oldham County in time for Christmas Eve.

A verified GoFundMe has been set up to help with expenses.

- Mary Ramsey

Chase Oglesby

Five months, of Bremen

Andrew and Charity Oglesby lost everything when a tornado hit Bremen — most importantly, their only child, Chase.

“No person should ever go through the pain of this much loss in one night,” reads a verified GoFundMe organized by Zach Negulis, Andrew sister’s fiance.

Andrew and Charity are both in the hospital from injuries suffered during the storm, the GoFundMe says.

“They are two of the most giving and loving people on this earth and would do anything for anyone,” Negulis wrote. “They and all of us are completely broken by this night as they lost the most important thing in this world to them.”

- Olivia Krauth

Evelyn Ratay

98, of Eddyville

Evelyn Ratay loved square dancing, bowling and quilt-making. She would craft quilts for family members and donate extras to local hospitals and people in need, according to her obituary.

Ratay worked as a seamstress for dress factories earlier in her life.

“Her family loved being with her and enjoyed her happy attitude,” according to her obituary.

- Brittany Carloni

Ollie Bright Reeves

80, of Mayfield

Ollie Bright Reeves retired from West KY Allied Service and had previously worked at Curlee and Mayfield Manufacturing, according to her obituary.

Reeves was also a member of the St. James A.M.E. Church.

Friends and former coworkers shared memories of “Ms. Ollie” on her obituary site.

“Ms. Ollie was such a special sweet soul,” Melissa Kelly wrote. “I never for an instant had to wonder what she was thinking lol. More times than not I was thinking the same thing!”

- Olivia Krauth

Cory Scott

27, of Bowling Green

Cole Scott, left, with his brother Cory Scott, right. Cory Scott was one of 16 people who died in Warren County during the tornadoes that hit western Kentucky in December.
Cole Scott, left, with his brother Cory Scott, right. Cory Scott was one of 16 people who died in Warren County during the tornadoes that hit western Kentucky in December.

Cory Scott loved basketball and woodworking. He enjoyed shooting guns, listening to loud music and working on trucks and cars.

The Bowling Green resident died Saturday, according to a Facebook obituary. Scott was one of 16 people who died from storm-related deaths in Warren County as of Wednesday.

Scott worked as a contractor for Bluegrass Craftsmen in Rockfield.

Family and friends meant everything to him.

“He was a role model to me and the one thing I really loved about him is that he was just a strong person. He was selfless and would do anything for anybody,” his younger brother Cole Scott told The Courier Journal. “He would drop everything he was doing to make you happy. He was my hero.”

Growing up, Cole said he would mimic the way Cory signed his name on his drivers license. Cole wanted to be just like his older brother, and said will likely get a tattoo of Cory’s signature in his memory.

“He meant everything to me,” Cole said.

Cole said he will always remember Cory’s smile and laugh.

“He lit up a room,” he said.

A verified GoFundMe page has been set up to support Scott's family.

- Brittany Carloni

Kayla Smith

30, of Mayfield

Kayla Smith died holding her friend's hand at the Mayfield candle factory, The Washington Post reported. She was close with just about everyone at the plant, including her partner of more than a decade, Justin Bobbett, the second shift supervisor.

Smith loved to joke and be silly with her coworkers — sometimes setting off glitter bombs or transforming offices. But she was also capable, responsible and there when someone was in need, friends and coworkers told The Post. They all loved her.

She loved Christmas and decorating for the season, never missing an opportunity to see the famous holiday light show in Paducah. Smith, a certified nursing assistant by trade, was born in Fulton.

“If there was one person that walked out of that building, I wanted it to be Kayla,” her friend BJ Rowell told The Post.

- Kala Kachmar

Cheryl Snodgrass

52, of Muhlenberg County

Cheryl Snodgrass, 52, was a victim of the Kentucky tornadoes in Muhlenberg County.
Cheryl Snodgrass, 52, was a victim of the Kentucky tornadoes in Muhlenberg County.

Cheryl Snodgrass will be remembered for her kindness. If anyone stepped foot inside her home, she would greet them with open arms, her son Ian Snodgrass told The Courier Journal.

“If she was here today, if you said hi to her or you were having a bad day, I guarantee you she would try to brighten your day,” Ian Snodgrass said.

Cheryl Snodgrass died in Muhlenberg County during the storms that hit western Kentucky over the weekend, according to the Muhlenberg coroner.

She enjoyed reading and restoring destroyed items, like furniture, her son said.

A long conversation with his mom in their first home is one of his favorite memories with her, Ian Snodgrass said.

“She was a special woman,” he said.

- Brittany Carloni

Bobby Wayne Spradling Jr.

50, of Mayfield

Bobby Wayne Spradling, who lived across the street from the Mayfield candle company, died trying to leave his home for shelter, his daughter Katrina Spradling told The Courier Journal. She'd kept her father updated on the storm throughout the day, and asked if he'd shelter at her house.

"None of us can understand exactly why he didn't leave," Katrina said. "He was always real cautious with storms. For some reason, he was stubborn and decided he was going to wait to see how bad it got."

Spradling, who owned a flooring business, was a skilled and sought-after carpet-layer who often traveled for his clients. He was a gifted handyman, who would fix incorrectly installed flooring for free.

Spradling also had a son, Bruce, of Paducah. Authorities found his roommate and longtime best friend, 44-year-old Derek Gilbert, about five feet away from him in the wreckage.

Katrina said her father had a fascination with science and technology, and he loved to learn. She recalls many nights staying up late talking and watching YouTube videos about black holes. Spradling also instilled in his children a love for camping and fishing, though work schedules and timing prevented them from taking trips over the past few years, Katrina said.

He was also an avid gamer and loved classics like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and Halo.

"Some of the best times I can remember were get-togethers on Friday nights where friends and family would all come down and bring Xboxes and TVs," she said. "… It would be 10 to 16 people all playing.

"He had a hell of a sense of humor. If he wasn't trying to help someone, he was trying to make someone laugh."

-Kala Kachmar

Diane Varney

62, of Moorman

Diane Varney, 62, of Moorman, died after a tornado destroyed her daughter's home, where she was seeking shelter.
Diane Varney, 62, of Moorman, died after a tornado destroyed her daughter's home, where she was seeking shelter.

Diane Varney, known to many as Ms. Di, died in her daughter's home in Moorman over the weekend. She was a team leader and 15-year-veteran at the Burger King in Central City, where she was loved by managers, employees and customers alike, her son Ricky Beckman told The Courier Journal.

"My mom was adored by everybody that knew her," he said. "I didn't realize how much the community loved her until the funeral yesterday."

Beckman said his mother had a heart of gold and though she didn't have much, she'd give her last penny or the shirt off her back to help someone in need. Varney moved her two children, Beckman and Jenny Shemwell, to Muhlenberg County from Chicago in 1998 to get them away from the city. She lived for her grandchildren, Ava, 11, Asher, 8, and 4-year-old Abram Shemwell, Beckman said.

"Her hobbies were being a couch potato — as long as she had her Sonomas (cigarettes), Monster drinks and her grandbabies," he said.

Beckman, who has been in recovery since March, said he's going to stay sober to honor his mother.

"She just wanted me to do right," he said. "Just because something bad happens doesn't mean you have to go back to that lifestyle. She wouldn't want me to go back to the way I was."

Varney's family has set up a verified GoFundMe page to pay for her funeral expenses.

- Kala Kachmar

Joe Marshall Ward

36, of Mayfield

Joe Marshall Ward, a line leader at the Mayfield candle factory, died when the tornado hit Friday night. His girlfriend, Autumn Kirks, was also working at the factory when she realized he'd gone missing. The two were saving to buy a house together, Kirks told the Associated Press. She described him as "a big teddy bear."

Ward left behind five sons and two daughters, as well as his mother and brother, according to an obituary published by the Paducah Sun.

- Kala Kachmar

This story will be updated.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Kentucky tornado victims: Obituaries of people who died

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