MOORE, Okla. (KXAN) - Jim Routon embracing his 7-year-old neighbor Hezakiah. It has become one of the lasting images after a deadly tornado struck the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, Okla., on Monday.
"It kept dropping down and coming up, dipping and coming up," Routon said of the twister. "Once it made a cone and came to the ground, it just exploded."
Routon and his family stayed safe huddling in an underground storm shelter, but panic quickly set in when he realized his neighbor's son, first-grader Hezakiah, was a few blocks away Briarwood Elementary School, which was hit hard by the tornado.
Routon raced to the school to find children climbing out from underneath collapsed walls.
"Most of the children had some minor cuts and bruises," he said. "A teacher had a pole impaled in her leg. That's how I know the teachers were protecting the kids, cause the teachers had injuries but the students didn't have severe injuries at all."
In the middle of the chaos, with parents screaming for their children, a little boy jumped into his arms. It was Hezakiah.
"He said, 'I ran to you and I jumped on you cause I knew you were going to pick me up,'" Routon explained. "I just hugged him and we embraced. I needed that hug as much as he did."
The joy of finding Hezakiah was overwhelming as he helped to calm the boy's nerves.
"He said, 'I'm so happy to see you big dog,'" Routon said. "He said, 'I'm scared.'"
Reassuring the boy, Routon said, "don't worry, mom and dad are coming."
While Routon is no longer in the middle of the chaos, he finds himself still very much in the middle. He's somewhere between joy knowing that Hezikiah is alive, but grieving because down the debris-covered streets, seven students at Plaza Towers Elementary are not.
"My heart goes out to all the parents at Plaza Towers," he said. "I just want you to know we are praying for you. We hope that you are comforted...just pray. That's all we can do at this time."
You can watch Jim Routon's emotional interview in its entirety in the video box above.
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