‘Strength, Determination and Unity’: UA, city highlight town’s resilience at April 27 memorial events

Students and community members gathered to honor those who died in a ‘life-changing’ tornado outbreak ten years ago.


CW / Isabel Hope

People begin to gather at Denny Chimes, where the University sponsored a memorial event for those who died in the April 27, 2011 tornadoes.

Isabel Hope | @isabamahope, Contributing Writer

On the 10-year anniversary of the April 27, 2011 tornado that killed 53 people in Tuscaloosa — including six UA students —more than 50 people attended a University-sponsored memorial event at Denny Chimes. 

The chimes rang 53 times at 5:13 p.m. to honor those who died at the time the tornado touched down in Tuscaloosa. 

Event organizers gave out white and grey T-shirts, sponsored by the UA Division of Student Life, that said “Tuscaloosa Strong” to over 30 people at the event. These shirts have also been sold online with all proceeds going to the Acts of Kindness Student Relief Fund.

Stacy Jones, interim dean of students, spoke about her experience on campus during the storm.

“It looked like the tornado was coming right at us,” Jones said. “We were waiting and all of a sudden everything went dark.” 

While the UA campus was not directly hit, the city lost power. Jones said she still remembers walking outside and seeing the aftermath. 

“Seeing our community go through a storm that has been described as a generational tornado outbreak was life-changing for everyone involved,” she said. 

Jones said she believes the University made a positive difference in the aftermath, including the Acts of Kindness Student Relief Fund which was created to provide emergency relief for students.  Jones also highlighted the efforts of Bama Dining to continue feeding the campus community after the storm. 

UA student athletes, Jones said, turned their struggles into “resolve to be the best at their sport.” 

The names of the six UA students who died—Ashley Harrison, Danielle Downs, Marcus Smith, Melanie Nichole Mixon, Morgan Sigler and Scott Atterton—were not mentioned during the event. 

In an email sent on April 27, UA President Stuart Bell reflected on the 10 year anniversary as an opportunity to acknowledge how the campus community responded with “strength, determination and unity.” 

“As we reflect on the past, we look forward to the future with optimism,” Bell said.

Jackson Olmstead, a freshman majoring in human resources and public relations who survived the 2011 tornado in Tuscaloosa, said he believes the University should remember the devastation. 

“I think it’s important for students to know about the history of tornadoes in Tuscaloosa, especially because this tornado hit just blocks from campus,” he said. “The weather anxiety that comes with living through and seeing the destruction is very real for many people who live here.”

The City of Tuscaloosa held three memorial events at Mary Harmon Park, Alberta Park and Forest Lake where new memorial plaques were installed. Mayor Walt Maddox spoke at Mary Harmon Park and thanked the citizens of Tuscaloosa for their recovery efforts since the tornado.

“Even in the worst circumstances there is always hope,” Maddox said. “To live in a city of heroes is an honor of a lifetime.”