Tornado victims in Alabama include the 'sweetest little boy' and a 'perfect' daughter  03/05/2019 00:07:11  2
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By Tim Stelloh, Elizabeth Chuck and Jareen Imam

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. At least seven members of one single family.

These are among the victims of the tornadoes that cut through eastern Alabama on Sunday, killing 23 people, authorities said Monday, warning that the death toll could still rise.

The victims range in age from 6 to 89, according to a list handed out by local officials. Here is what we know so far about them:

Taylor Thornton

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 law enforcement officers.

“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 assist with carrying 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 her 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.J. HernandezCourtesy of Hernandez family

David Wayne Dean

Carol Dean was working at Walmart on Sunday when the tornadoes struck, but her 53-year-old husband, David, was at their mobile home in the community of Beauregard, the Associated Press reported.

David Dean

She dialed his phone, but he didn't answer. So Carol Dean hurried home. Pushing her way past sheriff's deputies, she found her wedding dress amid the wreckage, the AP reported.

Her husband did not survive. Her children found his body in a neighbor's yard.

"He was my wedding gift," Dean said, according to the AP. "He was one in a million. He'd send me flowers to work just to let me know he loved me."

Carol Dean, right, is comforted by Megan Anderson on Monday.David Goldman / AP

MyKhayla Waldon

The death of 8-year-old MyKhayla was confirmed to NBC News by her aunt, Tameika Waldon-Carter.

Waldon-Carter said her niece was a 3rd grade student at Beauregard Elementary in the city of Opelika and a member of that community's Champagne Divas dance team.

"She loved dancing," Waldon-Carter said in a Facebook message. "Believe it or not she was dancing on her ultrasound."

Waldon-Carter added: "She was so sweet. she was loved by so many and she loved in return."

Eight-year-old MyKhayla Waldon

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.

This list will be updated.

Tim Stelloh is a reporter for NBC News, based in California.

Elizabeth Chuck

Elizabeth Chuck is a reporter for NBC News.

Jareen Imam is the Director of Social Newsgathering at NBC News and leads a team of reporters to find, verify and report on trending and breaking news stories. 

Caitlin Fichtel contributed.
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