"He's a sheriff's deputy and he's an excellent driver," Gary Longwell, a cook at the Trading Post restaurant next to the group home operated by the Mitchells, said of Howard Mitchell. Longwell said Jeremy Franks and two of the injured children worked at the Trading Post.
Waitress Kendra Sell sold Andy Dawson a soda and exchanged a handful of pennies he had collected for $4 before he climbed into the van Thursday morning.
"You can't make sense of it," she said.
In Eads, Smith and Bennett Smith described Andy as full of life, always with a smile on his face. Andy was a big University of Oklahoma fan who dreamed of going to school there.
Tony and Tayla Mitchell, Smith said, were full of energy, hugs and smiles. Both were fourth-graders who had been adopted by the Mitchells. Andy Dawson was being adopted, Smith said.
Austyn Atkinson liked middle school and played on the football, basketball, wrestling and track teams.
Jeremy Franks was a sophomore and a football player at Eads' 60-student high school. Smith and Bennett recalled him as a bit ornery and someone with a smirk on his face who always tried to push the limits.
"He wanted to kid with you a bit, but he always stayed where he needed to be," Smith said.
Last month, when a teammate's mother died, Jeremy worked with teachers and staff to design a school card to express condolences. The project was embraced by students.
"It warmed my heart that he would think of another student that he doesn't really know that well. But he knew that it was a hurtful time for the whole community and he wanted to do something about it," Bennett said.
"It was a turning point for him — when he felt like he was a part of our community and our school."
Smith said students are discussing a similar project for the Mitchell family.
Eads Mayor Cardon Berry said the town was ready to tend to the children still hospitalized.
"They'll be back and they'll need help and we will help in any way we can," Berry said. "That's just the way it works."
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