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"My stomach traded places with my heart."

Posted on 05/20/2018
"My stomach traded places with my heart."By Jennifer Finch, Communications Director for Weld County

The day started not unlike any other - with one exception. Instead of heading to the office, then Deputy District Attorney Robb Miller was looking forward to heading to Windsor’s Pelican Lakes Golf Course to participate in the Weld County Sheriff’s Golf Tournament. The annual fundraiser routinely brought members of law enforcement agencies together to raise money for the Sheriff’s Posse, a volunteer organization dedicated to assisting deputies. The married father of two was anxious to spend the day with coworkers supporting a worthy cause.

As Miller and friend Devon Maus started their morning round of golf under a gray sky, Miller recalled noticing the grips on his clubs were damp every time he grabbed one from his bag. He didn’t think much of it at the time. They proceeded from hole to hole, and by the time they reached the 10th, rain and very small hail stones started to fall. Miller noticed the ceiling of the grey sky looming closer to the ground and since the 10th hole was close to the clubhouse, Miller and Maus decided to duck into the pro shop and wait out what they thought would be a brief passing shower. Miller struck up a conversation with the golf pro at the shop who had recently hooked a huge Northern Pike in the lake at Water Valley. The story, though, was interrupted by the blaring of a weather alert.

The small hailstones that drove Miller and Maus off the course had grown large – to the size of a man’s fist. Golfers started ducking into the pro-shop and the club house to take cover from the growing storm. Miller listened to the stones crash on the roof of the building and watched them implode the windshields of the cars parked in the lot. No one had seen a hail storm quite like this before.

Miller later learned that another friend, who had been playing on the far side of the course, took cover from the hail in a tunnel – standing at one end while the wind drove the hail in through the other. Then, the wind began to force hail into both ends of the tunnel at the same time.

Once the hail stopped, people ventured outside to look at the damage. Miller’s windshield had survived but the body of the car was a different story. He and Maus got in the car and drove the one mile back to Miller’s home. When he arrived, Miller’s wife, Marcy, was working from home and watching over their youngest son, Drew, who was a few weeks shy of his first birthday.

“When I walked in, Marcy showed me some of the hailstones she had put in the freezer,” Miller said. “Not knowing the tornado already passed, she said there might be a tornado coming and asked me to pick up Danny from daycare.” Danny, age four, was attending the Windmill Child Enrichment Center in Windsor, just off Highway 257 and Eastman Park Drive.

Miller and Maus got back into the car and headed to the day care center. What Miller saw on the way made his heart start to race: debris everywhere; trees in the street. He pulled up to the light at the intersection of Eastman Park Drive and Highway 257. To his left, an overturned semi. To his right, over-turned train cars. And in front of him, on the other side of the intersection just south of the day care nothing but rubble. The building that once stood there was destroyed; nothing more than a pile of lumber.

“My stomach traded places with my heart,” Miller said. The stop light at the intersection was out, and traffic was taking a painstakingly long time to navigate the now four-way stop. “I just kept thinking I had to get around all these people. I had to get my kid.”

Miller pulled into the day care parking lot and found the day care building had been damaged but had not suffered the same fate as its neighboring structure. Groups of kids were standing with day care staff in the parking lot; other staff members were holding babies. Miller hurried out of the car and ran to the first group of kids – no Danny. “I started to panic,” Miller said. He ran to the second group of kids and finally saw his son’s face.

“He was fine until he saw me,” Miller remembered. “When he made eye contact with me then he started to cry. I asked him ‘What happened, buddy?’ and he said, ‘Ice came through the windows.’”

Miller, who was one of the first parents to arrive at the day care, said everyone started to smell gas so they began to move the children into the bank across the lot. “Some day care staff members were leading kids single file to the bank others were carrying babies in car seats – two on each arm – across the lot to the bank building,” said Miller. “I was pushing cribs with other babies across the lot as well.”

Once all of the children were safe in the bank, Miller told the staff he was going back out to the day care. “I told one of the ladies that I would go back over to the center and direct parents to the bank to pick up their kids.”

What Miller saw when he walked across the lot will stay with him forever. “I walked out and saw a mom on her knees in front of the now empty center, rubble and all, crying.

I walked over to her and told her that her kids were fine. They were in the bank, but she didn’t hear me. I had to tell her several times before she calmed down.”

As more parents arrived, Miller directed them to the bank.

By the time Miller headed back home, the adrenaline of the day began to wear off. “I’ve never had that feeling ever,” he said of the emotions he had just experience. “The day care workers, though, they were awesome.”