Nicolas McCabe was a bright third-grader with an ornery grin. He loved Lego blocks, country music and going to the lake. He also adored his friends at Plaza Towers Elementary in Moore, where he and six other children died this spring while taking cover from a monster tornado.
Driven by the loss of their son, Stacey and Scott McCabe are raising money for Shelter Oklahoma Schools, a nonprofit that plans to build or fortify storm shelters in schools throughout the state.
Tornadoes strike Oklahoma more than once a week on average; it's the fourth most tornado prone state, according to the National Climatic Data Center. But fewer than 100 of its nearly 1,800 schools have shelters.
Shelter Oklahoma Schools has raised about $2 million to change that, said Scott McCabe during a stop this week at the GFS Storm Shelters showroom in Edmond. Other parents of children who died at Plaza Towers are also raising money for the cause.
“If our children had storm shelters," said Stacey, "then they would be safe, and we should be able to feel like when we send our kids to school that they are safe. That’s one of the reasons our son stayed at school - because we thought he was safe.”
On the afternoon Nicolas and his classmates died, meteorologists and storm spotters tracked a large, dangerous tornado churning toward south Oklahoma City and its suburb, Moore. The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for the area at 2:59 p.m. Minutes later the tornado, with winds of more than 200 mph, ripped through homes, businesses and Plaza Towers Elementary.
Stacey McCabe was at work unaware of the storm's path or destruction. She began to realize what happened as she drove closer to home. She heard the news about Nicolas' school on the radio.
During the hours that followed, the McCabes experienced the excruciating ritual of giving emergency crews information about their son — where he probably was in the building, what he was wearing.
“It’s not fair,” said Stacey. “And I don’t ever, ever want another parent to have to go through that.”
Nicolas was a giving child, she said, who often brought from home items for classmates who didn't have them - without her knowledge. He liked mini-pizzas for lunch. He shared them with a classmate who also liked them, and who also died on May 20.
McCabe said she hopes others will live by her son’s example.
“That’s Nicolas’ legacy,” his mom said. “Our son was a very giving person. I don’t know why. God just blessed him that way.”
Mark Schachtenhaufen is a reporter for The Edmond, Okla., Sun.