Joplin mom finds woman who was her ‘real, living angel’ the night of tornado

What does Joplin look like five years after the EF5 tornado?

Joplin was hit by a massive EF5 tornado that killed 161 people, injured 1,000, and destroyed 7,500 homes and business on May 22, 2011.Take a look at what Joplin looks like now -- five years later.
Up Next
Joplin was hit by a massive EF5 tornado that killed 161 people, injured 1,000, and destroyed 7,500 homes and business on May 22, 2011.Take a look at what Joplin looks like now -- five years later.

Lauren Robertson woke Wednesday morning to a text from a friend.

“I think we may have found your lady,” the friend wrote.

For years, Robertson had thought about the stranger who saw her in pain the night of the tornado and stayed by her side for hours as Robertson searched for her young daughter.

Robertson, 29, told The Star on Tuesday that she wanted to thank her and tell her what her kindness has meant over the years.

After reading the morning text, Robertson went to Facebook, where she had a new message and friend request from a woman she instantly recognized. Indeed, Robertson had found her “real, living angel” from the night of May 22, 2011.

“I woke up to the best news I could have gotten,” Robertson said. She then lay in bed messaging with Cyndi Stinnett. “She said she thought of me many, many times and wondered how Brynn was doing.”

Stinnett, who lives outside of Joplin, had been horseback riding during the day that fourth Sunday in May. Her husband, Roy, had gone into Wal-Mart and left when he heard about the storm coming. He told a store employee who was herding people to safety that he had to go. His wife was horseback riding and wouldn’t know the storm was coming.

He also warned his sister and brother-in-law who lived in the Sunset Ridge subdivision, where Robertson’s daughter was.

After the storm, the Stinnetts went into town to check on family. As Cyndi Stinnett stood amid mounds of debris and people’s belongings strewn throughout Sunset Ridge, she saw Robertson searching for her daughter.

Stinnett, who was 47 then, had three daughters who ranged in age from late teens to late twenties.

“I looked at her and could see one of my daughters,” said Stinnett, who lived in Kansas City for more than 20 years before she moved to the Joplin area in 2007. “I could see the girl’s heart break. She was there all by herself. ... All I did for her is what I would want someone to do for my daughters.”

Not sure what they would find as the night went on, Stinnett also was no stranger to loss. Many years ago, her infant son, Aaron Charles, died of sudden infant death syndrome.

Whatever happened, she didn’t want this young woman to be alone. So she helped her search, walked two miles to Freeman Health System with her and waited hours for any word about Brynn, who was four days shy of her sixth birthday.

When Brynn was found safe, Robertson hugged Stinnett and called her “my angel.”

Stinnett has often thought about Robertson in the years since. Then, Tuesday evening, her sister-in-law sent her the post of The Star’s story.

In that story, Robertson talked of how she had made two New Year’s resolutions for this year: Run her first marathon and find “my lady.”

As Robertson and Stinnett messaged Wednesday morning, they made plans to get together soon. Robertson wants her family and Stinnett to meet. Stinnett wants to see Brynn and introduce the girl to her horses.

Before then, the Joplin mom will run her first marathon. On Saturday, she’ll be one of the runners of the Joplin Memorial marathon.

The route of the marathon, to be held the day before the storm’s fifth anniversary, will weave in and out of the tornado path. It will go by Cunningham Park, which was seen as Ground Zero in the days after the storm, where media from across the country stationed themselves to tell Joplin’s story.

Five years after the storm, The Star goes back to Joplin to witness its revival and what pain lingers.

When designers and architects put together some of the memorials that now spread across the park, it was the sense of self-sacrifice that played out the night of the storm and the days after that inspired them.

“Knowing someone is there to help when you are at the worst time in our life is the thing that helps you take the next step, then the next one,” said Traci Sooter, a professor and director of the design and build program at Drury University in Springfield. Sooter co-designed Joplin’s Butterfly Garden and Overlook with Drury colleague Nancy Chikaraishi.

“It helps you get out of bed the next morning,” Sooter said. “You don’t even have to know the person’s name. You just need to know that there is someone who cares about you.”

Robertson did. And now she can thank Stinnett, tell her what she meant to her that night and in the days after.

For her part, Stinnett feels honored that Robertson is so grateful.

“If any of us can have someone remember us like Lauren remembered me,” she said “you have lived a life well lived.”

Laura Bauer: 816-234-4944, @kclaurab

Eric Adler: 816-234-4431, @eadler