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Rescued student felt redemption anew


JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–Kevin Furniss, a Union University student injured in the devastating Feb. 5 tornado, said from his hospital bed: “Out of nowhere a guy reached down and squeezed my hand and I knew then I was going to make it out.”

Emergency medical workers transported 51 Union students to the hospital after pulling them from rubble of their battered dormitories. While most were treated and released, five students –- two in intensive care -– remain in Jackson-Madison County General Hospital.

In addition to Furniss of Bartlett, Tenn., others remaining hospitalized are David Wilson from Hixson, Tenn.; Matthew Kelley from Somerville, Tenn.; Jason Kaspar from Lakeland, Tenn.; and Cheryl Propst, a child of missionaries in Kenya.

Mark Wilson, father of David Wilson, said that despite terrible circumstances there is much for which to be grateful.

“What I’ve learned I’ve known for years -– that God’s mercies are new every morning,” Wilson said. “Thursday was a really bad day for us. I heard some things that really scared me. I used all those mercies and they were just enough to get me through the day.

“But [Friday] morning He refilled my bank account,” Wilson said with a spiritual metaphor. “It’s not a credit account where you can take extra, but every morning He fills what you need for the day.”

Furniss and six other male students were trapped beneath piles debris in a residence hall bathroom for about four hours as rescuers worked to set them free.

“I was wedged between the bathroom wall and the sink,” Furniss said. “We screamed a lot. We panicked a lot. There was a lot of pain.”

Furniss described the second hour of their entrapment as a search for hope in the midst of dire circumstances.

“We began praying a lot and asking each other questions about salvation,” Furniss said. “At this point I hadn”t seen a face or a light and wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I started singing and other guys were still praying.”

Rescuers initially attempted to use mallets and sledgehammers to break through the rubble in a desperate effort to reach the young men. After several failed attempts, workers resorted to chainsaws.

“I couldn’t move my arms or my legs,” Furniss said. He recalled hearing the chainsaws and knew help was on the way but “then I became scared of the chainsaw hitting me because I didn’t know where the sound was coming from.

“My fear was that the chainsaw would go into my back -– that they were going to find me, but that I was going to be dead.”

Furniss eventually was able to bust his arm through the drywall and insulation. He said the exposure to the cold outside air delivered the glimmer of hope for which the trapped students had been waiting.

When the worker grabbed his hand, Furniss said: “It felt a lot like when I prayed to receive Christ. He pulled me out of a lot of sin. As deep and hopeless as I was, Christ pulled me out. In the same way, it felt like that when [the rescuer] grabbed my hand and pulled me out.”

Bob Furniss, Kevin’s father, said it is difficult to be a parent not knowing the status of your child trapped in a collapsed building.

“One person told me he had seen Kevin,” Bob Furniss said. “But we said, ‘I don’t want you to tell me you saw him; I want you to tell me you talked to him.'”

Candy Kelley, mother of Matt Kelley, said although the days have been difficult, they are thankful the situation was not more severe.

“It is hard but God never told us it was going to be easy,” Kelley said. “This could have been a lot worse -– we have our son with us.”

As Union rebuilds its buildings and campus life, the effects of the destruction continue to weave unity through the faculty, staff and students.

“When I got pulled out, I saw guys from different fraternities and professors on each side of me,” Furniss said. “Everyone that came together to help risked their own lives to go back in and save the seven of us.

“It felt a lot like 1 Corinthians where we have many members who all become one body. We all just became a true body.”


Brittany Howerton is a senior public relations major at Union University.

Watch a video interview with Kevin Furniss.

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  • Brittany Howerton