FRANKLIN COUNTY, Ala. – For 15-year-old Garrett LeClere, April 27, 2011, is a distant memory, but that’s not to say that day didn’t change his life.
“Honestly, I don’t even believe it was ten years ago,” Garrett said when asked about that day. “You could tell me that it was five years ago or you could tell me that it was 20 years ago and I’d nod my head.”
Garrett is now a freshman at Russellville High School and like most teenagers, he has a long list of hobbies.
“I have a piano now, a guitar and a drum pad and I haven’t really been working on them as much as I want to so I plan on starting to work on that and trying to get good at that,” Garrett said. “I like to read a bunch of books and stuff. Right now I’m reading a book by Justin Cronin.”
In school, Garrett said his favorite subject is science.
“You get experiments, you get to learn about life. It’s cool.”
Ten years ago, he learned plenty about life, coping with a tragedy no five-year-old should ever have to endure, the loss of both his parents after an EF-5 tornado ripped through Phil Campbell.
“I remember I was hanging out with my dad and my sister,” he said, “and then he was watching the weather and he said for us to go hide in the bathtub so we did and then after that, I can’t remember anything.”
Garrett’s older half-brother, J.J. McCormick, was in Spruce Pine that day, about three miles northeast of Phil Campbell. He remembered it more vividly.
“It doesn’t haunt me, but it comes back a lot,” J.J. said. “We could see this huge wall cloud, and I mean huge. It was black.”
Garrett and his half-sister Marisa suffered extensive injuries.
One day after the storm, rescuers recovered Garrett’s parents, Jay and Amy LeClere. Years prior, Amy had been married to Jeff McCormick. The couple had two children together, J.J. and Marissa.
Jay and Amy were found about 100 yards from their home, not far from a basketball court where Garrett was found alive and covered in debris.
Amy LeClere was 33 years old.
Jay LeClere, 45 years old.
J.J. and Marisa’s father and stepmother, Jeff and Stacey McCormick, adopted Garrett, blending the families to make them even stronger.
“Me and J.J. are a lot closer than we were back then,” Garrett said. “I know if I need to talk to anybody, he’s definitely there.”
“Looking back, that day was a very tough and rough day on a lot of people, but I have to say that day is the most influential day of my life,” J.J. said.
“When I look back at my life, I see that God was there that day,” he said. “He’s been there with me, every other day.”
For Garrett, he knows he has a lot of life left to live, but he also knows he wants to help others make those same steps.
“I want to be able to give people hope,” Garrett said. “Even if you have something really bad happen to you, you can come back from it, there’s always a way.”