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published: Tuesday, June 26, 2012
In time of crisis, an ultimate display of a mother's love
By ED BALDRIDGE
VENUS -- It was the ultimate display of a mother's love.
Heather Town, a 32-year-old mother of three from Venus, died Sunday when a tornado spun off by Tropical Storm Debby destroyed her mobile home at 220 Montana Trail. She was holding her 3-year-old daughter, AnneMarie, when she was sucked out of the home.
She was still clutching the girl when neighbors found her just moments before she died.
According to a press release from HCSO's Nell Hays, Town was thrown more than 200 feet into a wooded area.
Hays reported that immediately after the tornado, two neighbors, Shane Penrod and Jason Knapek, heard a child crying. When mother and daughter were found, Town was still breathing and clutching AnneMarie.
A third neighbor, Emily Troup, joined the rescue effort and made the 911 call.
Penrod reportedly took the child from the mother and gave her to Knapek, who carried her out of the woods and to his truck to wait for EMS.
Heather's father, Elmer Town, was devastated by the tragedy.
"I know she held on to that baby and saved her life. That's the kind of person she was," Elmer Town told WTVT Channel 13.
"She held that baby so tight, I believe that's why the baby's ribs were broken," he added. Her other two children were not at home during the storm.
"She never let go of her little one even in death," Highlands County Sheriff Susan Benton said.
"This mother was found after this horrific natural disaster with her baby sheltered in her arms. What more can a parent sacrifice for their baby? That was heroic."
AnneMarie was originally taken to Florida Hospital Lake Placid and was later driven to All Children's Hospital in Tampa in serious condition. She was listed in stable condition at last report.
"If you have not lived through this, you cannot imagine how fast your whole life can change," Commissioner Don Elwell said Tuesday after he visited the area with county staff to assess the damage and to offer what comfort that he could.
"This is not just something you see in the news. This is home," Elwell said.
"I can think of no greater display of parental love and courage. I cannot imagine what was going through her mind other than the safety of her child," Elwell added.
Hays said the debris field from the tornado that killed Town extended over several miles from the Montana Trail home.
Property damage was also sustained in the Lake June, Twin Lakes, Cloverleaf and Lorida areas.
"Numerous homes suffered structural damage from the storm, and trees and power lines were downed throughout the area, however we are not aware of any further injuries. Complete electrical service has been restored to all the storm damaged areas at this time," Hays said.
Commentators on the News-Sun website are confirming that Town's actions were part of her love for her children.
"Heather was one of my best friends! She never met a stranger. She was an amazing mother. She always put her girls first! She will be greatly missed," said a reader who identified herself as Melinda Brege Byrd.
"This woman is, without question, a hero! She sacrificed her life in an effort to protect her child. It is chilling to contemplate the fear she must have been feeling, but warms my heart to imagine her grit and determination in placing herself between a tornado and her baby! R.I.P. ma'am, your friends, family and community should be very proud of you!" said a reader identified as Paul McGehee.
A trust fund has been set up to help the family. The "Town Children Account" is at TD Bank. Call the bank at 471-1553 for details.
The News-Sun has joined in partnership with those collecting items for the family.
Heather's sister, Crystal Walker, has two of the three children and will be receiving the youngest once she is released from the hospital.
According to Paula Sapp, who is helping coordinate this drive, the family is in need of gas cards, gift cards, clothes, hygiene products, bed linens for twin beds and laundry detergent.
Clothing sizes are medium to large in junior shirts, size 9 in junior pants/shorts, youth 12-14 shirts, youth 12 pants/shorts, 2-4 T toddler and in shoes, women's size 6 and 7 1/2, and toddler 2T.
Items can be dropped off at the News-Sun office at 2227 U.S. 27 South, Sebring; Wells and Associates in Sebring or Lake Placid; The Jewelry Box in Sebring; or at the Memorial United Methodist Church in Lake Placid.
Very sad but well put together story. (by: Louise Evans - 6/28/2012)
This was such a sad thing as many storm stories are. We all pray for the children and hopefully they will be loved by their aunt as well as by their mother. Thanks for the "help" information.
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