Oklahoma tornado: First victim of Moore storm identified as nine-year-old Ja'Nae Hornsby

Teachers praised for using their bodies to protect pupils

A nine-year-old girl has been identified as the first victim of the F5 tornado that ripped through an Oklahoma suburb and killed at least 24 people.

Ja'Nae Hornsby was named last night as one of the seven Plaza Towers Elementary School pupils who died after the building took a direct hit from the tornado.

Her father, Joshua, released photographs of her to show what a happy child she was.

He described the moment he reached the school after racing to collect his daughter.

“I had to park around the corner from the school and when I hit the corner so I could see the school was gone,” he said. “My heart just sank.”

“She was the best kid anybody could have. She was Ja'Nae,” Mr Hornsby told CNN. “She was a ball of energy, a ball of love. I’m still waiting for that call to say, ‘we made a mistake’,” he said.

Her aunt, Angela Hornsby, said Ja'Nae had spent last weekend at her house, playing with her cousins.

“They like to play dress-up,” she told  NBC news. “My daughter puts jewellery on them and I took pictures of them dancing together and they took video. They were just happy. She was always happy, always smiling.”

Members of her grieving family gathered on Tuesday at a Baptist church in Oklahoma City to console each other.

The children had taken shelter in a hallway with Jennifer Doan, a teacher at Plaza Towers who is eight weeks pregnant. She wrapped several in her arms to protect them. Two of those she protected survived after the walls caved in on top of them.

Her boyfriend, Nyle Rogers, told The New York Times that she could hear their voices: “I can’t hold the rock anymore,” one said. Eventually the voices stopped as the building collapsed.

As the search by emergency workers for survivors in the wreckage left by the huge tornado comes to an end, incredible stories and heart-wrenching accounts began to emerge.

One tearful rescuer said how he had helped pull a car out of the school's front hallway, revealing another teacher with three little kids underneath her.

Miss Crosswhite, a teacher at Plaza Towers, told the Today show about the terror of the little children as they sheltered in bathroom stalls.

She said: 'One of my little boys just kept saying, ''I love you, I love you, please don't die with me, please don't die with me.'' And when it finally stopped, we made it out.'

Incredibly, nearby Briarwood school did not suffer any losses but did experience the same devastation.

Suzanne Haley, a teacher at the school, told CNN how she remained determined to stay calm, even after her leg had been pierced by a metal table leg. “I had to be calm . . . not until after surgery did I lose it,” she said.

Teacher Annette Brown told newsok.com how she and students, including her son, were pinned to the ground by a collapsed roof.  She said that she held her son's hand for the entire time despite losing feeling in her arms.

The search for survivors is coming to an end, according to officials. Moore fire chief Gary Bird said he was almost certain there were no more bodies or survivors left in the rubble.

“I'm 98 per cent sure we're good,” he said.

No additional survivors or bodies have been found since Monday night with at least 24 dead, including nine children.

More than 230 people were injured, and 120 were being treated at nearby hospitals, about 50 of them children, according to local officials in Moore.