It was supposed to be a happy day for 18-year-old Will Norton, who was looking forward to attending California's Chapman University in the fall. He had just graduated Joplin High School in Missouri and was driving home with his father from the ceremony when tragedy struck. An F5 tornado, one of the deadliest in the history of the United States, was barreling toward them, devastating everything in its wake. When it hit the car they were driving, a brand new Hummer, Will's father Mark literally tore his bicep trying to hold onto his son. The sun roof on the Hummer broke and Will was sucked out, never to be seen alive again. The Joplin Globe reports his body wasn't found until almost a week later.
As confusion gripped Joplin, Will's aunt, Tracy Presslor, had the foresight to launch a Facebook page to help in the search for her nephew, who many first thought may have been taken to a local hospital while unconscious, unbeknownst to relatives. Soon after, due to media coverage (family members appeared on CNN's "AC360," among other shows) and the fact Will was had an Internet following due to various videos he posted on a personal YouTube account, the page (called "Help Find Will Norton"), had thousands of members, both sending well-wishes and praying for his safe return. Some just posted the Lord's Prayer, while others offered to help in any way they could.
Presslor posted information about search parties and hospitals that the family checked or were being checked, posted pictures for the media to use, and even heartfelt messages of hope, including a description of Will's last minutes.
"...As soon as the tornado grabbed the car, Will started quoting scripture, one right after another," she wrote. "As a Christian this not only makes me cry but makes me smile because I know how strong his faith is. "
In the early morning hours of May 28, worst fears were realized when Presslor posted that Will's body had been found, saying "We are grieving deeply. It brightens our lives to know that even in his passing he touched lives." It was later reported that he was discovered in a pond, right near where the Hummer was hit.
Immediately after, the page received an outpouring of support, with thousands of comments posted in mere hours. Relatives, friends, acquaintances, and strangers from across the country and world sent their condolences.
"Your story has reached me in Ohio" one woman wrote "I,m very sorry for you loss; your family is in my prayers."
Another from New York wrote "I was so hoping there would be a happy ending to Will's story. He is with God now, so I guess that's the best ending any one of us can hope for. Godspeed Willl Norton."
Norton was buried Tuesday, June 7, 2011. A memorial fund is being set-up in his honor; information about it can undoubtedly be found on his Facebook page as it develops.