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Beau's Journey » 2008 » December » 04

Archive: December 4th, 2008

December 4, 2008: CJ’s Bus

  The Shadow Angel Foundation has started support of a new organization out of southwest Indiana.  CJ’S Bus. 


The story of C.J.

C.J. Martin, 2 – killed during the November 2006 Evansville Tornado

Not even death could separate them.

Three generations are entombed in 2-year-old C.J. Martin’s crypt at Sunset Memorial Park Mausoleum, where some of his gamma’s and mammy’s ashes attend the blue-eyed boy they called their "little man."

C.J., "Gamma" Julie Dean, 46, and "Mammy" Jean Martin, 70, died at 1:58 a.m., when Martin’s home was obliterated as the tornado roared through Eastbrook Mobile Home Park.

"Sometimes I think he was here to make their last days as good as they could be, and it was their time to go and it wouldn’t be heaven without him," said John Martin, C.J.’s father, Dean’s son and Jean Martin’s grandson.

C.J.’s mother, Kathryn Martin, collapsed when she received confirmation her son’s body had been found on a muddy bank near a lake. She had last seen him shortly before 10 p.m. Nov. 5 and did not see him again until the services at 10 a.m. Nov. 12.

"His eyes weren’t lit up. He wasn’t smiling and laughing. Even at the funeral I felt this sense of loss, but I don’t think I really accepted the fact that he was gone until a couple of weeks later because he wasn’t in Florida and he wasn’t at Gamma Julie’s," she said. "When all three of them were gone, they were all together gone."

Another of C.J.’s constant companions, "Mr. Blankie," also is interred with him. The toddler’s cherished green blanket was discovered buried in the mud a few feet from where a volunteer firefighter found the boy. The firefighter said C.J. looked as though someone had gently laid him there.

Although C.J. died of blunt force trauma, Kathryn Martin, 28, said C.J. had only a scratch on his hand and one on his face. She does not know what clothing, if any, he was wearing, but C.J. did have on his Spider-Man underwear.

The Martins now laugh about the way John would grouse "underwear" when he heard his son discussing "’Spider-Man panties."

C.J. hated plain white briefs, so his mother made sure he was wearing Spider-Man underwear and his Colts uniform when he was prepared for the funeral. "There are just so many things that during the day I’ll smile about, and now it’s becoming a lot more comfortable to be able to smile than it was in the beginning," Kathryn Martin said. "In the beginning, if I smiled I felt like I was betraying them."

Their mobile home was about 20 lots away from Jean Martin’s, where C.J. and his grandmother frequently spent the night playing games and watching movies before snuggling into bed.

A trailer blocked the Martins’ car as they raced toward Jean Martin’s home. John Martin realized what had happened before his wife did. The tornado had obliterated Jean Martin’s mobile home and deposited another one in its place.

John Martin tried not to completely break down as he shared the news with C.J.’s siblings, who had spent the night with their grandparents in Evansville. Cyvannah, now 10, said she, Simon, 9, and Sydnie, 7, cried tears of disbelief.

"I thought I could show them how much I thought it wasn’t true," Cyvannah said. "I thought they were mistaken, maybe C.J. hadn’t died, and some of the doctors needed to find out more."

The mobile home John Martin’s mother and stepfather shared at 2338 Indian Blvd. was destroyed. Stephen Martin, suffered six broken ribs, a broken clavicle and punctured lung but survived.

John and Kathryn Martin’s mobile home was damaged but intact. C.J.’s ride-on coupe car was still parked in the yard, but the tornado had stolen the swing set he loved. Kathryn Martin said the family could not live in the trailer anymore.

"That’s the place that destroyed our family. That’s what I thought in the beginning. Now I don’t know," she said. "I think that is where we were the happiest as far as where we lived."

The Martins removed all of their belongings in two trips. When Cyvannah saw Mammy Jean’s home had been destroyed, she began to understand her "really, really, really" sweet brother and two "really sweet" grandmothers would not return.

"I think that they have just suffered probably the most pain a child could suffer," Kathryn Martin said. " You know, one day everything’s fine. The next day, everything’s gone."

Although Cyvannah still doesn’t like to hear others talk about the storm, she is learning to express her emotions and is feeling "kind of better."

Although life is returning to normal, John Martin said it’s a new normal. After living with his in-laws for months, the family moved into a one-story brick home with a basement.

He is back on the job at Infinity Molding in Mount Vernon, Ind., and a toy car purchased for C.J. frequently rides "shotgun" when he drives.

Kathryn is looking forward to returning to the work force after earning an associate’s degree in human services at Ivy Tech State College and has dedicated herself to preserving and sharing memories of her family and promoting severe weather safety.

She was instrumental in the establishment of the Tornado Memorial Park and Playground at Eastbrook and on Sunday announced her latest endeavor: C.J.’s Bus Foundation. The foundation will raise funds to build a customized bus that will travel the nation, providing a safe recreation area for children in the immediate aftermath of disasters.

Some day, the Martins "new normal" may include another child. "For the past year, we’ve kind of just been maintaining the living status," she said. "Now I want to actually live."

– Libby Keeling


The Story Of CJ’s Bus

The Story

The Story behind CJ’s Bus

CJ’s Bus was born out of three unique ingredients: the personal experience of Jeff Parness following the 2003 San Diego wildfires; Kathryn Martin’s experience providing emergency child care assistance to a family following the May 2006 Otwell, Indiana tornado; and a conversation Jeff and Kathryn had in June 2006 in which Kathryn stated her desire to honor her son C.J.’s legacy by continuing to reach out and help other families by caring for their children in the immediate aftermath of disasters. What came out of this experience was the realization of the need for a mobile recreation unit to drop directly into disaster sites in the immediate aftermath of disasters in order to keep kids distracted in a safe group environment.

Kathryn lost her 2-year-old son C.J., as well as her mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law in the deadly F3 tornado which ravaged Evansville and Newburgh, Indiana at 1:58AM on November 6, 2005. The tornado took 25 lives and was one of the deadliest in Indiana history.

As a testament to her character, Kathryn returned to school and received her degree in human services with a special focus on child advocacy; she led the effort to build the Memorial Park for the surviving children and families of Eastbrook Mobile Home Community to enjoy; she’s pushing “CJ’s Law” through the Indiana Legislature, with the help of Representative Phil Hoy, that will mandate mobile home manufacturers to pre-install NOAA weather radios in order to provide mobile home residents with potential life-saving warnings in the event of future storms; and she reached out in May 2006 to the families in the neighboring community of Otwell, Indiana who were also hit by an F3 tornado – with a very simple and kind gesture:

Kathryn loaded up her car with coloring books, crayons and juice boxes, and along with a friend, went about searching for children playing in the debris and offered their parents to keep their kids distracted for a few hours by sitting down with them and coloring.

This simple gesture provided immeasurable relief to the families she and her friend Brandi Crawley-Gish assisted, as these parents were given a few hours to attend to their immediate recovery needs. And it also provided these children with the opportunity to maintain their innocence as children in the face of disaster.

(The Evansville Courier & Press wrote a beautiful story about Kathryn and Brandi’s efforts to help the families in Otwell, Indiana which you can read here).

When Jeff met Kathryn in Evansville in June 2006, he asked her what she wanted to do with her life going forward. Kathryn’s response was immediate: “I wish I could drive to disaster sites with crayons and coloring books and help parents by keeping their kids distracted.”

At that moment the “light bulb went off” and the idea for CJ’s Bus was born.

A letter from Kathryn Martin

On November 6th, 2005 our family was forever altered by Mother Nature. My two-year old son, C.J., was having a slumber party at his great-grandmother’s house. His grandmother stayed for the sleepover and joined in the festivities.  In the middle of the night, an F3 tornado instantly destroyed three generations of love.  The smell of gas, the screams from those who used to be my neighbors, the darkness, and the sirens, were all the sights and sounds of that night.  The fear of not finding my baby and having to tell other injured individuals that I could not stay with them because I had to find my son, will forever haunt me.

Having lived through this type of disaster gives you first hand experience in the amount of support a community needs and the gaps where no support can be found. As volunteer organizations focus on housing, clothing and feeding the survivors, families with children are placed into an impossible balance of caring for their children and ensuring their safety while dealing with the aftermath. Safe and accessible childcare is overlooked as a necessity.

CJ’s Bus is a proposal to provide a safe, mobile childcare facility loaded with games and toys for children in disaster. CJ’s Bus will enable parents to take the time to deal with paperwork as well as the opportunity to "just breathe". CJ’s Bus will allow children to play and have fun with other children who have suffered the same devastating events as one another. I envision CJ’s Bus as a way to begin the battle of healing for families that are put in unpreventable circumstances.

Thank you for helping us to make CJ’s Bus a reality.

Kathryn M. Martin
November 5, 2006
Evansville, Indiana


CJ’s Bus Video’s

More information on CJ’s Bus


December 4, 2008: COLD!

  A cold morning across the region.  This is especially true considering that we were in the upper 50s yesterday with thunderstorms!  Here is the morning temperature map.

Tempeartures – purple would be 20s.

Morning satellite shows the storm system has pulled off to our east.  We are in clear skies this morning.  Clear=COLD!