Brookville recoving from EF-4 tornado, one year later

BROOKVILLE — The strongest twister that hit the Miami Valley during the Memorial Day tornado outbreak a year ago Wednesday first touched down in Brookville.

That massive EF-4 tornado ended up cutting a path more than 19 miles long across Montgomery County. Once it touched down in Brookville, it didn’t stop until it got all the way to Riverside.

One of the hardest hit areas in Brookville was the city’s Terrace Park neighborhood. The plat sits directly next door to Brookville High School, which had a massive section of its roof blown off in the storm.

John and Shirley Behm live in the plat along Crosswell Avenue. The married couple has lived in their Bellbrook home since 1965. Shirley remembers the night of May 27, 2019 down to the minute.

“My alarm went off on my phone at 10:30,” Shirley said. “And so I woke my husband (John) up and we went and got in the closet. And about 10:48 I believe is when it (the tornado) hit. We heard glass break and we peaked out of the closet and we could see leaves in the hallway.”

That’s when Shirley said John peaked out of the closet and watched the storm rip their front porch clean off the house. It was back to the shelter of the closet – their safe spot during a storm in their home that doesn’t have a basement.

In the next moments, Shirley said she didn’t have fear, so much as she had faith. “Then you could feel those walls,” Behm said. “And they were like breathing – just – I thought, ‘well if we go, we go because I know I’m going to the right place.’”

The EF-4 tornado caused $91,000 worth of damage to the Behms’ home. They were forced out the night of the storm and couldn’t move back in until the first week of November last year.

Shirley and John have lived in this house for 55 years. Their motivation to stay put and take the five months to rebuild, was really pretty simple: “Oh, we love the neighborhood,” Shirley said with a smile.

This is home for them. A spot where Shirley can stand on the front porch and point out all the homes destroyed on Memorial Day 2019.

“This street there was one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight,” Shirley said as she peered right to left down the block, pointing at the lots as she counted. “Eight on Crosswell.”

For some here in Brookville, the storm was just too much. They decided to move on after all the destruction. Some properties just have slabs or foundations now. Others have become overgrown, vacant lots. “It’s sad in a way,” Behm said.

But many families here, just like the Behms, have chosen to rebuild. And that couldn’t make Shirley any happier. “The neighborhood, the way it’s building back, I’m excited to see what they’re doing with the houses and they don’t all look alike anymore,” Behm said. “Each one has their own personality. And I think that’s kind of nice.”

12 months after one of the Miami Valley’s darkest chapters, Behm still has that faith.

“What’s it feel like a year later,” News Center 7’s John Bedell asked Behm in their front yard Wednesday, the anniversary of the storm.

“It feels like progress is happening,” Behm said. “Things are going to be OK. And, ah – I’m anxious to meet all the new neighbors when they get it all done.”

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