Residents mark 6th anniversary of tornado that changed Windsor forever

Tornado caused widespread damage in Windsor, Colo. May 22, 2008

Tornado caused widespread damage in Windsor, Colo. May 22, 2008

WINDSOR, Colo. — A tornado changed the town of Windsor, CO forever on May 22nd, 2008, but six years later the town is continuing a remarkable comeback.

When tornadoes strike, the destruction is often is often the focus. That was the case in Windsor six years ago.

“We had some parents that heard, on the radio, that the building was destroyed,” said Shawna Bruntz, the director of Windmill Daycare. “And they thought that they honestly lost their children.”

The first images of the Windmill daycare following the tornado showed mangled playground equipment and extensive damage to the building. On the inside the outlook wasn’t much better.

“You could feel the door pulling,” said Angi Ruiz, an assistant director of the daycare, who took cover in a bathroom during the tornado in 2008. “My ears were popping really bad, so I knew that it was on us.”

“I knew it was the real thing when I looked outside and there was like baseball sized hail,” said Alysia Ruiz, Angi Ruiz’s daughter.

Alysia Ruiz was just six years old when the tornado hit, but the memories are still fresh for her and her mother.

“The first thing I remember is opening that door when I knew it had passed and yelling out the door, ‘Is Alysia okay?” said Angi Ruiz.

“We were in this little room and all I wanted was my mom,” said Alysia Ruiz.

Remarkably, not only was Alysia okay, so was every other child in the daycare. Though the storm peeled back part of the roof and blew out windows, the structure was intact and everyone escaped without injury.

“The single greatest blessing was that we didn’t have more tragedy as far as loss of life,” said Windsor mayor John Vazquez.

Though just one person died in the EF-3 tornado, it destroyed roughly 125 million dollars in property and it all happened just five weeks after mayor Vazquez took office.

“It was a direct hit on town hall,” Vazquez said. “The roof of the building was pretty much lifted off of the structure.”

Six years later, he’s proud to say that, like Windmill Daycare, the Town Hall still stands. It also serves as a symbol.

“This community is solid. It’s like a rock,” Vazquez said. “It’s held together with that mortar, that is that building.”

Today the old Windsor Mill is one of the last visible signs of the tornado’s destruction on the town, but almost everywhere you look there are many more signs of the Windsor’s resilience.

“It was all about how people came together,” Vazquez said.

Since the tornado, volunteers have donated time and money to create a new Chimney Park sports complex, businesses have returned to an improved main street and the population has grown from a population of 15,000 to roughly 22,000.

“I’d never wish anything like this on any community,” mayor Vazquez said. “But what I find the greatest satisfaction and joy out of is that we did find the ability to come together and move on and not let it define us.”

“I think it made the town stronger,” said Alysia Ruiz.

After seeing the destruction six years ago, Alysia admits she often cried at the sight of wind and rain, but now she is stronger too.

“I’m a little bit afraid of (storms),” she said. “But not as bad as I was when that happened.”

The tornado will never be forgotten here, but it will be remembered for the community’s strength.