Thirty years ago, residents of one Southwest Missouri community say they learned the true meaning of Thanksgiving. 

On November 15th of 1988, an F-2 tornado destroyed dozens of homes in Barry County community of Butterfield. Retired Barry County Sheriff’s Deputy Kevin Davis says that morning  started on a hectic note.

“We’d had a guy escape from the jail,” says Kevin Davis.

And Davis was among the group of law enforcement hunting for him. That afternoon, he was near Monett searching for the escapee, when a call came in over the radio. An EF-2 tornado had ripped through the community of Butterfield just after four o’clock that afternoon, destroying dozens of homes, a killing one person. And Davis was one of the first one on the scene.

“Well, you were kind of in awe for a few minutes, because you didn’t see anything that you were familiar with. You saw a bunch of tattered houses, and houses gone, and the eerie sound of gas escaping from gas mains,” says Davis.

Larry Privett was and still is a resident of Butterfield, but wasn’t home when the storm struck.

“The phone rang, and my boss answered it, and said it’s your wife and she’s really hysterical,” says Larry Privett.

Privett says he left for home immediately. When he got into town, he started doing what he could to help.

“I’d picked my brother in law up, and we checked on a few houses where we thought somebody might still be there,” says Privett.

Privett says the storm coming so close to the holiday gave a whole new meaning to Thanksgiving.  

“It had a real special meaning that year. I mean, everybody should have been so thankful for it not being any worse that it was. It was bad, but it could have been a whole lot worse,” says Privett.

Davis says the manhunt that began the day was temporarily forgotten when the tornado hit, but that doesn’t mean the escapee got away.

“One of the first things we heard on the radio after the tornado struck Butterfield was that they found our escapee kind of dazed around in the city of Butterfield,” says Kevin Davis.

And that gave them something to laugh about in the midst of so much tragedy.

“I told him, one time after we got him in custody that, you know, some people just come after you, but we send a tornado after you,” says Davis.