updated 05/21/2013 AT 10:00 AM ET
•originally published 05/21/2013 AT 10:55 AM ET
To be a teacher is already to be a hero, but during Monday’s monstrous tornado in the suburbs of Oklahoma City, Rhonda Crosswhite put her life directly on the line after first seeing that several of her students had taken refuge only moments before the twister devastated their school.
“I was in a [bathroom] stall with some kids and it just started coming down, so I laid on top of them,” the sixth-grade teacher at Plaza Towers Elementary in Moore, Okla., told Savannah Guthrie on Tuesday’s Today show. “One of my little boys just kept saying, ‘I love you, I love you, please don’t die with me.’ But we’re okay. We made it out.”
All of the children who were with her are now safe, there was one minor injury – a cut to the head, said Crosswhite – and she herself emerged with only some scrapes on her feet, which she called “irrelevant, considering what could have happened.”
“I never thought I was going to die,” she said. “The whole time I just kept screaming to them, ‘Quit worrying, we’re fine, we’re fine.’ And I’m very loud, so I just hoped they could hear me, because I could hear them screaming. One girl, she’s in my homeroom, was sobbing, and I was like, ‘We’re going to be fine, we’re going to be fine, I’m protecting you.’ And then I said a few prayers. ‘God please take care of my kids.’ And we’re fine.”
Recalling the tornado and its 200-m.p.h. winds, Crosswhite said, “I don’t remember what it sounded like, honestly. It was like a freight train, but I don’t remember much about it,” she said about the sound of the tornado. “It felt like someone was beating me up from behind. The stuff was just coming down on my back. I thought I was fine, [but] I have cuts everywhere that I didn’t even realize I had.”
After the interview, Damian Britton, one of Crosswhite’s charges during the ordeal, had something to give her. A great big hug.
“I told you we were going to be okay,” she told him, as he murmured “Thank you” and the two dissolved into tears.
GlobalGiving is raising funds for emergency supplies for victims, as well as longer-term relief and rebuilding efforts. Donate online or text GIVE OK to 80088 to donate $10 to GlobalGiving’s Oklahoma Tornado Relief Fund. Message and data rates may apply. Terms: mgive.org/t