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By Elizabeth Chuck, Jareen Imam and Tim Stelloh
A 6-year-old boy who always made his mother smile. A 10-year-old girl who was “the air” in her father’s lungs.
These are among the victims of the tornadoes that cut through eastern Alabama on Sunday, killing at least 23 people, including multiple children, authorities said Monday. Officials warned the death toll could rise.
Here is what we know so far about the victims:
Taylor, 10, had gone camping with her best friend over the weekend and wasn’t supposed to be back until Sunday night, her mother, Ashley Thornton, told NBC News’ Lester Holt.
But the group returned early. Ashley Thornton said she couldn’t get a hold of the best friend’s father, so her husband, David, raced to the friend’s home in Lee County, east of Montgomery.
He found the neighborhood destroyed. It was swarming with police.
“I don’t know how anybody made it through that,” David Thornton said.
Eventually, he was able to confirm with an officer that his daughter was among the dead. Then, authorities let him help carry Taylor from the scene.
“I got to help a little bit,” David Thornton said, wiping away tears.
Taylor’s parents described her as a “perfect,” “God-filled” little girl — someone who didn’t have a mean bone in her body and loved being a big sister to a 10-month-old brother.
“She was the air in my lungs,” David Thornton said.
Armando ‘A.J.’ Hernandez
Armando, who went by the nickname A.J., was only six. His mother, Kayla Melton, declined to speak to NBC News, but she shared photos of her son, including one captioned: “Heaven got the sweetest little boy.”
“I love you, A.J., thanks for making me smile when I was with you,” she wrote.
A highway patrol officer was also seriously injured in the tornado, NBC affiliate WSFA reported.
The officer, Sgt. Robert Burroughs, was at home with his wife when the twister swept through the area, destroying the house, the station reported, citing the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency.
Burroughs was being treated in the intensive care unit at the East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika, according to the station.
“Troopers have a strong sense of camaraderie and will surround the Burroughs family at this time and offer support both short and long term,” state police spokesman Cpl. Jess Thornton said, WFSA reported.