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Injured Union student compares rescue to salvation

Kevin Furniss is one of the remaining students still in the hospital after a tornado hit dormitories on the campus. (Photo by Justin Veneman)
Kevin Furniss is one of the remaining students still in the hospital after a tornado hit dormitories on the campus. (Photo by Justin Veneman)

JACKSON, Tenn.Feb. 9, 2008 – Kevin Furniss was trapped under a pile of rubble after Tuesday’s tornado that swept across the Union campus. But when a rescue worker grabbed his hand, he knew he was going to make it out alive.

“It felt a lot like when I prayed to receive Christ,” Furniss said. “He pulled me out of a lot of sin. As deep and hopeless as I was, Christ pulled me out. In the same way, it felt like that when [the rescuer] grabbed my hand and pulled me out.”

Furniss was one of 51 Union students who emergency medical workers transported to the hospital. While most were treated and released, five students – two in intensive care – remain in Jackson-Madison County General Hospital.

Besides Furniss of Bartlett, Tenn., others hospitalized include David Wilson from Hixson, Tenn.; Matthew Kelley from Somerville, Tenn.; Jason Kaspar from Lakeland, Tenn.; and Cheryl Propst, a child of missionaries in Kenya.

Mark Wilson, father of David Wilson, said that despite terrible circumstances, there is much for which to be grateful.

“What I’ve learned I’ve known for years – that first God’s mercies are new every morning,” Wilson said. “Thursday was a really bad day for us. I heard some things that really scared me. I used all those mercies and they were just enough to get me through the day.

“But (Friday) morning he refilled my bank account. It’s not a credit account where you can take extra, but every morning he fills what you need for the day.”

Furniss, along with six other male students, was trapped beneath piles of rubble in a residence hall bathroom for about four hours as rescuers diligently worked to set them free.

“I was wedged between the bathroom wall and the sink,” Furniss said. “We screamed a lot. We panicked a lot. There was a lot of pain.”

Furniss described the second hour of their entrapment as a search for hope in the midst of dire circumstances.

“We began praying a lot and asking each other questions about salvation,” Furniss recalled from his hospital bed. “At this point I hadn’t seen a face or a light and wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I started singing and other guys were still praying.”

Rescuers initially attempted to use mallets and sledgehammers to break through the rubble in a desperate effort to reach the young men. After several failed attempts, workers resorted to chainsaws.

“I couldn’t move my arms or my legs,” Furniss said. He recalled hearing chainsaws and knew help was on the way but “then I became scared of the chainsaw hitting me because I didn’t know where the sound was coming from.

“My fear was that the chainsaw would go into my back – that they were going to find me, but that I was going to be dead.”

Furniss eventually was able to bust his arm through the drywall and insulation. He said the exposure to the cold, outside air delivered the glimmer of hope for which the trapped students had been waiting.

Bob Furniss, Kevin’s father, said it is difficult to be the parent not knowing the status of a child trapped in a collapsed building.

“One person told me he had seen Kevin,” Bob said. “But we said, ‘I don’t want you to tell me you saw him; I want you to tell me you talked to him.’”

Candy Kelley, mother of Matt Kelley, said although the days have been difficult, they are thankful the situation was not more severe.

“It is hard, but God never told us it was going to be easy,” Kelley said. “This could have been a lot worse – we have our son with us.”

As Union rebuilds its buildings and campus life, the affects of the destruction continue to weave unity through the faculty, staff and students.

“When I got pulled out, I saw guys from different fraternities and professors on each side of me,” Furniss said. “Everyone that came together to help risked their own lives to go back in and save the seven of us.

“It felt a lot like 1 Corinthians where we have many members who all become one body. We all just became a true body.”

By Brittany Howerton ('08)

Media contact: Tim Ellsworth, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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