Alabama Community Begins Burying Students Killed When Tornado Hammered High School

Monday, March 5th 2007, 6:27 pm

By: News On 6

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (AP) _ Bandaged and bruised teenagers wiped at tears Monday as a southeast Alabama community began burying the eight students killed when a tornado tore apart their high school.

Friends and relatives said Michael Bowen was found with his arms around Katie Strunk, which they took to mean he was trying to protect her when they died.

``He was always our rock,'' Bowen's stepfather, LaVaughn Steward, said before a coffin draped in white. ``I know today who my hero is. My hero is Michael.''

He spoke to more than 600 people inside a chapel at Fort Rucker, the Army's helicopter flight training base that borders Enterprise.

Five of the eight killed, including Bowen, have parents who either serve in the military at Fort Rucker or work as contractors there.

School remained canceled, and services were planned Tuesday for at least three more teenagers killed in a hallway at Enterprise High School when a wall and concrete roof collapsed in Thursday's storm.

Courtney Bowden, who was bruised and suffered gashes on her head, said she spent about half an hour talking to Bowen as they sat in the hallway waiting out the storm.

``He was everything that everyone said in there,'' Bowden, the daughter of the chaplain at Fort Rucker, said after the funeral.

The 16-year-old Bowen, a junior who played trumpet in the school band, also was an altar server at his church.

``He loved anything that had to do with flying,'' said Blake Ensinger, who knew Bowen from the Our Lady of Loretto Parish on base and sang at the service. ``I'll just really miss his optimistic look on life and his ability to always make you laugh or smile. That's what I'll miss the most.''

Along with the eight students killed at the high school, an 83-year-old woman died when the tornado hit her house in Enterprise. A separate tornado at Millers Ferry in rural west Alabama killed a man at his mobile home while he was on his lunch break.

Nine others were killed in Georgia by the same storm system.

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