Remembering Joplin tornado seven years later: Three tales of death, courage and love

In the end, 161 people would lose their lives when death came as a mile-wide wall of black swirling wind.

Seven years ago today at 5:41 p.m., on what had been an otherwise calm Sunday, one of the deadliest EF-5 tornadoes in U.S. history — its 200-plus mph winds pummeling brick and mortar, land and life — gouged a path through the center of Joplin, Mo., all but splitting the southern Missouri city in half. In those seven years, the city has healed as steadily as survivors' scars.

Joplin officials don't have anything planned this year to commemorate that day. The last planned event marking the tornado was two years ago, on the fifth anniversary.

"The city is letting this one go by," said Lynn Onstot, Joplin's spokeswoman. "The citizens don’t necessarily want to be reminded of it."

But memories linger.

Here, in the midst of what so far has been a calmer than average tornado season, are three memorable stories of that day and after that The Star has run over the years: the chaos and heroism that unfolded at St. John's Hospital; the story of Jasper County Coroner Rob Chappel, who worked to exhaustion to identify the dead; and the story of one young man, Steven Weersing, whose life and body were scarred by the storm but later healed by love.