Will the United States forget about Patty Bullion and the Tuscaloosa Tornado now that Osama Bin Laden has been found dead? After midnight on May 2nd, Patty Bullion disappointedly posted a Facebook update for her community group “Pictures and Documents found after the April 27, 2011 Tornadoes”. Her status update said that she, ” — will not be on the Early Show tomorrow morning. CBS is canceling all interviews about the tornadoes to cover the Osama Bin Laden story — I expect the coverage of the tornadoes and our area to be minimal now.”
How did this story begin? Who is Patty Bullion and what does she have to do with Osama Bin Laden and the Tuscaloosa Tornado? It has been a busy week so far for Limestone County resident Patty Bullion. I contacted Patty Bullion on Friday April 29th, 2011 thinking that I would reach someone who had a good cause that no one knew about. The next day, she gladly granted me a telephone interview and her telephone number. I was excited, as a journalist, to have the opportunity to interview someone who was doing something so great after something so tragic.
When I placed the call on Sunday May 1st, I was warmly greeted by a woman who was glad to talk to anyone that could help get out the word about her Facebook project and the needs of the Tuscaloosa Tornado victims. On the afternoon of May 1st, CNN, Facebook, and other news agencies had filled her weekend with interviews. At 5 PM when we spoke, Osama Bin Laden had not been announced as deceased.
But this story really begins on April 28th, 2011. After experiencing the horrors of the so called Tuscaloosa Tornado, Bullion thought that she was left unscathed. However, the minute that she walked into her yard after the April 27th storm had passed, she felt her heart strings tugged in a way that only a mother could know.
Lying on the ground was a banged up ultrasound photo. There was no doubt in her mind that it had blown on to her property from the tempest of the past night’s storm. As one Mother to another, she knew she needed to find the woman who owned this ultrasound. Bullion’s original idea was to reach out and touch at least one person. With one click, she founded the “Pictures and Documents found after the April 27, 2011 Tornadoes” Facebook community page.
When she created the account, she only expected a few people to even notice what she had done. A modest adventure that began at 7:30 PM on April 28th took off immediately. Four hours later, her lost and found for the April 27th 2011 tornado had gained 1,000 friends. The next morning, when she woke up, that number had increased to 12,000 in just 12 hours.
However, the media that rushed out to initially greet her have left her in the lurch. Although she was interviewed by multiple news agencies, those interviews now risk being set aside to cover the death of Osama Bin Laden. This is a real tragedy, because, as Patty Bullion told me, this isn’t just about returning photos and documents to neighbors.
What is important is helping the people who have lost everything and drawing attention to that. While she is excited that her Facebook page has drawn a lot of attention, she is only interested in the attention it brings to helping those in need. When I asked her about creating a website to facilitate lost and found resources for future tragedies, she had no interest in being a celebrity. “No,” she said humbly, “I love helping with this project but let the next group of people feel inspired and empowered to do this for their area.”
As of the evening of May 1st, residents of Huntsville, Alabama and neighboring Madison County are still without power. When the world wakes up on May 2nd to learn about the death of Osama Bin Laden, will they have forgotten the tragedies from the week before?
In the meantime, Patty Bullion isn’t losing her patience. She is still diligently managing the photos posted on the Facebook page she created. Among her requests are for people to post their email address and send the found photos and documents directly to their owner (not to her). She also requests that no one post prescriptions or Social Security numbers.
Although her sudden and engulfing community healing project has been time-consuming effort, it is the success stories that are keeping Patty Bullion and her family of helpers going strong. In one example, she said that her own uncle found a wall portrait photo in his yard. Within 7 minutes of posting the photo, the owner was found. The owners subsequently told Patty’s uncle that it belonged to his grandmother. At the time, the grandmother was in the hospital recovering from severe injuries inflicted by the tornado. The man described the moment the wall photo was returned as “healing” for his critically ill grandmother.
For those victims that lost everything in the tornado, the return of one small relic is like winning the lottery. For locals that have lost everything they own, Patty Bullion believes this an opportunity for them to be able to give something back. Even if you have no money or property, she said, you can find a photo and give the gift of healing to another person. As power is returned in the area, Bullion believes that more photos will appear and be returned.
As we all know, the death of Osama Bin Laden is a static event that happened, but, is now over and done with. However, the aftermath, clean up, and restoration of the areas destroyed by the Tuscaloosa Tornado will take months; if not years. For these reasons, in addition to visiting Patty Bullion’s “Pictures and Documents found after the April 27, 2011 Tornadoes” Facebook community page, she also invites you to donate generously to your neighbors in Alabama and other parts of the Southern United States.
Over 80 places to donate can be found at the Tuscaloosa Tornado Donations Facebook page. All photos, no matter how far in the future they are found, can be directed to Patty Bullion at [email protected]
Tuscaloosa Tornado Donations
Pictures and Documents Found After the April 27th, 2011 Tornadoes