Thieves target tornado victims in Henderson County

Tornado victims targeted

HENDERSON COUNTY, Texas -- It has been the most difficult year of Teresa Melton’s life. And tornado looters just made that difficult year all that much worse.

Melton lived on a picturesque 10-acre property on FM 2709 with views of the rolling hills and pasture land of Henderson County. She built a house right next to her 72-year-old mom’s house.

In the span of seven months, Melton’s dad died after a stroke, and her own husband died February of 2016 after a three-year battle with cancer.

Then, May 1, 2017, the tornado.

“It’s very difficult to come out here and see it all,” she said standing next to the now empty concrete slabs where her house, her mom’s house, and a garage/shop once stood. Melton, her mom, and her current husband Bobby Strader, survived, huddled in the laundry room of Teresa’s home.

“Right here,” she showed WFAA while standing inside the outline of a 6-by-6-foot space on the concrete slab. “Me, Mom, and Bobby.”

“It picked up both houses and destroyed them. We were very fortunate to walk away,” she said. 

Then, a month later, the next hit came.

They kept everything they could salvage in a storage container next to the concrete slabs, and in an outbuilding at the back of their property. Last weekend, the weekend of her son’s high school graduation, thieves took everything they could find.

“You know my heart just sank,” Melton said when they discovered the thieves had taken chainsaws, a washer and dryer, two ATV’s, lawn mowing equipment, two saddles, and artwork, and even stole a 14-foot utility trailer to haul it all away.

“I just couldn’t believe that somebody would do that to you when they see that you’ve lost your home and everything,” she said. “And that they would do that it dumbfounded me.”

“It’s pretty low to go out there and rob somebody when they’ve already been knocked down, and they’re moving forward and getting back up,” said Strader. “And then you want to come and knock them down again?”

Deputies are investigating the theft. Meanwhile, Melton says she’d already decided she and her mom will not be rebuilding on the property. They are considering selling and leaving all the bad memories behind.

"She's 72 years old,” Melton said of her mom. “And she's having to start over. And for somebody to come and take what little bit she had, it's devastating. You know, I just hate it. So, we are going to start over somewhere else."

"It makes me angry and it makes me sad that somebody would do that. But I think they'll get caught,” Melton said while admitting she is trying to focus on the positive: the outpouring of support and help they’ve received from their community.

"There were so many people that helped us and continue to help us that I try to make a conscious effort to focus on the good,” Melton said.

But in all this misery for Teresa Melton and her family, the tornado did unexpectedly reveal one more “good” thing.

Teresa and Bobby secretly eloped and were married on March 21 of this year. They chose to keep it a secret because they didn’t want to distract from Melton’s son’s high school graduation. They were planning for a June 2nd announcement. But, while cleaning up the tornado debris, an unexpected discovery was made.

"My sister-in-law found the marriage license in a field back here,” Melton said. “And we were busted."

"The paper wasn’t even damaged. And when they held up the paper and said ‘Is there something you want to tell us?’ I said I know what that is,” laughed Strader.

"I told her when I proposed to her I said, 'Are you ready for a lifetime of adventure? I didn't know it was going to be an F-4 tornado come through here and start off an adventure,'” he laughed.

An adventure they are committed to. It’s just an adventure they wish they didn’t have to share with a tornado and a group of tornado-looting thieves.

Anyone with information that might help track down the thieves is urged to call the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office.

© 2017 WFAA-TV


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