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Morris resident finds mail from Washington tornado victim

Passports, photos continue to turn up after storms

MORRIS – After Sunday’s storm blew through Morris, Butch Benson headed outside to pick up the shingles and aluminum siding debris scattered around his property.

“I see a piece of paper laying in the ditch and figured well, I’ll pick that up, too,” he said. “I was shocked because it was from Washington.”

Later that day he discovered the document, which was a chiropractic bill, belonged to Steve Neubauer of Washington – the one Washington resident who died as a result of the tornado there. Morris is more than 80 miles away.

Washington was one of the worst-hit areas in Illinois by Sunday’s storms that resulted in multiple tornadoes throughout the state. The tornado there was larger than the EF2 that hit Coal City and Diamond early Sunday afternoon.

Benson lives off Nettle School Road in Morris and is surrounded by cornfields, which were scattered with debris that came from the southern part of the state.

He brought the document Monday to the Morris Daily Herald – where he thought found paperwork was being handled – and later that day learned from a news report about Steve Neubauer, 51, of School Street in Washington, who died while trying to make it to the basement of his home.

“I was saddened. I figured it was just a normal piece of paper and then I heard his name and I was shocked,” he said. “I feel sorry for them and everyone else who had to go through this.”

The Grundy County Chamber of Commerce & Industry has become the documentation hub for Grundy County residents who find photos and paperwork. A mortgage document and a photo belonging to Neubauer also were turned in, said Sarah Peterson, events director for the chamber.

Peterson said the chamber has received several dozen documents, including receipts, mail, sheet music, cards, letters, checkbook registers and a passport. A news station planned on putting the story of the passport on Good Morning America, but then canceled, researched the contact information for the passport’s owner. The passport had been locked in a safe box on the second floor of the home.

Kristi Tjaden of Minonk lost “everything” in the tornado, not just her passport.

“The only thing left standing in our house are the four walls of the kitchen,” she said.

She and her two children survived because they were in the basement. But she almost brought her family back upstairs right before it hit. Her home is in the country, so she could not hear the sirens, but a notification to her phone told her she was all clear.

As she went upstairs, she saw through a window it was not clear.

“I didn’t know what it was until I saw it twisting,” Tjaden said.

She immediately went back to the basement as what sounded like a train barreled toward her house. She told her children to get down, she shielded them with her own body and they all prayed out loud.

As the days carry on, the family continues to be reunited with important items.

“Out of all the sad, we have found so many sentimental things,” Tjaden said. “We found my husband’s wedding ring, which was upstairs in our bathroom, my purse, a bracelet made from rose petals (from her grandmother’s funeral), my kids baby blankets and a lot of pictures.”

The chamber is going to mail Tjaden’s passport to a location the family is staying at and another person from as far as Shorewood, more than 90 miles from Minonk, is sending them their wedding photo. Another person found the very first picture taken of her daughter after her birth at the hospital. They located Tjaden through the “Photos found from the Nov. 17, 2013 Illinois Storms/Tornadoes” Facebook page.

“It’s just amazing,” she said through tears.

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