Tornado survivors mourn losses, search for belongings

Posted November 17, 2008 5:38 p.m. EST
Updated November 23, 2011 5:12 p.m. EST

— Some families searched for salvageable belongings among their ruined homes, while others mourned deep losses, two days after tornadoes killed two people and displaced up to 125 people across eastern North Carolina.

Robert Guillen, of London Church Road, remembered the 15 seconds it took the tornado to tear his home from its foundation and catapult it 60 yards away, reduced to a pile of debris.

Guillen was dazed and injured but knew he had to find his 11-year-old grandson, Joshua Wiggins.

"All of a sudden, a man came from nowhere, and he showed me where he was at," Guillen said. "He was dead when I found him. He was really dead."

Guillen said he doesn't know what he and his wife, Shirley, will do next. They adopted Joshua after his mother died in an unsolved murder three years ago.

"I don't know how we're going to make it without him, because he was our life," the grandfather said.

Theresa Wiggins said she would never forget her great-nephew – "his smile, he had a beautiful smile, and his eyes."

Joshua was a bright, outgoing sixth-grader at Toisnot Middle School in Wilson. He played the drums, enjoyed soccer and sang in the chorus.

"I will always remember Josh because Josh loved to hug, and I would always get a hug from Josh," teacher Hilda Bridgers said.

Counselors have been at the school, helping students and staff.

"It was just one of those things that was completely unexpected, one of those tragedies," Principal Craig Harris said.

The twisters also killed Marilyn Gomez, 61, of Scott Road in Kenly.

After the devastation, some volunteers took the day off work to help clean up destroyed and damaged homes.

"My heart goes out to all of the people over here," volunteer Ralph Pipkin said. "I just felt like there's nothing else I could do but come over here and help out as much as I could."

Residents threw tarps over holes in their roofs to protect the interior of their homes. They piled bricks up at destroyed houses and they sifted through the debris, looking for belongings.

"Right now, we haven't even really started to replace anything," William Pittman said. "Right now, we're trying to assess on what we do have, so we know what we got to get."

But Pipkin did find something precious Pittman lost in the tornado's swirling winds that night: his glasses.

"I just found them with a clothes hanger and drug them out through the rubble, and there they were, still intact," Pipkin said.

Crystal Pittman recalled the terror of being thrown across her bedroom and nearly being hit by a falling tree.

"If God hadn't of picked me up and thrown me, the tree would have probably killed me," she said.

"I've got my mom and my wife safe, and my dogs are safe, and that's all that matters," William Pittman said.

Funeral services for Joshua will be held at New Beginnings Community Church, on Lamb Road in Wilson, at 1 p.m. Saturday. His family was still planning for visitation.

Jonathan Gomez said his mother would be cremated and services would likely be held at St. Mary Catholic Church in Goldsboro. Times and dates were still being arranged.

Memorial funds for the Wiggins family and those displaced along London Church Road have been set up through the North Carolina State Employees Credit Union. Donations can be mailed to:

Joshua Wiggins Memorial Fund
Acct. # 60531309
P.O. Box 8097
Wilson, NC 27893


London Church Road Family Disaster Relief
Acct. #60531311
P.O. Box 8097
Wilson, NC 27893

The Red Cross is taking donations for storm victims across North Carolina. Checks should include "Wilson-Johnston tornado" in the memo line, and all donations can be mailed to:

American Red Cross
801 S. Third St.
Smithfield, N.C. 27577