Amazon worker who died in tornado collapse was ordered to stay in the warehouse instead of going home, girlfriend says

Amazon worker who died in tornado collapse was ordered to stay in the warehouse instead of going home, girlfriend says

December 13, 2021

AN Amazon worker who died after a tornado destroyed a warehouse was told to stay inside the building until the twister had passed, his girlfriend claims. 

Larry Virden, 46, was killed during the storm that hit Edwardsville, Illinois on Friday night. 

Cherie Jones, the Navy veteran’s girlfriend of 13 years, told the New York Post: “I got text messages from him. He always tells me when he is filling up the Amazon truck when he is getting ready to go back… I was like ‘OK I love you’.

“He’s like ‘well Amazon won’t let me leave until after the storm blows over.”

The message was sent around 16 minutes before the storm touched down.

Virden had worked at Amazon for five months and was the dad of four kids, including adopted children. He also served in Iraq.

Jones doesn’t blame the online retailer for Virden’s death. 

She added: “Not really. But it’s that what-if situation: what if they would have let him leave? He could’ve made it home.”

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The couple lived in Collinsville, located around 13 minutes away from the warehouse. 

Jones said that her kids are finding it difficult to process the loss of their dad.

Read our tornado tracker live blog for the very latest news and updates…

She said: “My oldest boy, he thinks that daddy is going to come home, but now we have to tell him that daddy’s not coming home.”

The mom said her daughter started crying because she realized something was wrong after asking “where’s daddy?”.

Clayton Cope, Deandre S Morrow, Kevin Dickey, Etheria Hebb, and Austin McEwan were also among the fatalities.

Navy veteran Clayton, 29, tried to warn colleagues before the storm hit.

His mother Carla Cope, told The Daily Beast: “He just said he needed to tell someone that [the tornado] was coming. He had a big heart and he was a very sweet man.”

She went to the warehouse after the storm passed, looking for her son. She learned hours later from authorities that Clayton didn’t survive.


Longtime friend Leighton Grothaus described Clayton as a “one of a kind person".

Cargo driver McEwen, the youngest victim, died while sheltering in the bathroom with coworkers.

Friends said he was an only child who loved to hunt with his friends.

He was my friend and he didn't make it," coworker Brian Erdmann, who was on his way to make a delivery to the warehouse, told Reuters.

In a moving tribute, Etheria Hebb’s cousin Coerce Smith said she was a “new and dedicated mother”. 

Friends described Morrow as a "very loyal friend."

“I came on here to express how much of a GREAT FRIEND he was to me for so many years! I learned so much from him during my school years he taught me early what loyalty was,” his ex-girlfriend wrote, according to the Post.

Amazon reportedly banned its workers from carrying their phones on the warehouse floor, according to Bloomberg.

The company requires devices to be left in cars or in lockers before passing security checks.

The ban had reportedly been eased during the pandemic but was being reinforced in the past few months.

Workers called out on the ban, saying they want to have their phones in the case of emergency and to check potentially life-threatening weather reports.

Amazon has said that emergency response training is provided to workers in its facilities.

It also said that employees are notified and directed to move to a designated, marked shelter if there is a tornado alert.

The company’s founder Jeff Bezos tweeted Saturday night that he was “heartbroken” following the tragedy.

He said: “The news from Edwardsville is tragic. All of Edwardsville should know that the Amazon team is committed to supporting them and will be by their side through this crisis.

"We extend our fullest gratitude to all the incredible first responders who have worked so tirelessly at the site."

Up to 100 workers are thought to have been trapped in the factory when the tornado hit. 

The Sun has approached Amazon for comment.

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