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Dog dies in tornado after saving owner's life

The Appomattox tornado sent Jake Burchett flying through the air and into his neighbor's brick wall (Sandy Burchett)
The Appomattox tornado sent Jake Burchett flying through the air and into his neighbor's brick wall (Sandy Burchett)
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Evergreen, VA - Sheila Ferguson points at a corner of scattered cinder blocks on the ground, the only remains of what was once her friend Sandy Burchett's home.

"That right there was a large living room on the other side," Sheila says, furrowing her brow as she struggles to remember.

Sandy was at work when the tornado alerts were issued, but her son Jake Burchett never saw it coming.

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"His dog woke him up, he was asleep in his bedroom," says Sheila. "And then [the tornado] threw him against the brick wall there. About, probably I'd say 50 yards."

She points at the spot where he landed and lets out a sigh of disbelief. "It's hard to believe right?" Sheila says. "I've already had my emotional moments yesterday, but even talking about it now... it's still hard."

The army veteran was rushed to the hospital for head trauma. Jake was treated for an L1 compression fracture and required staples in his head and stitches to his hand. Miraculously, he is expected to be okay.

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His dog Dixie was later found underneath pieces of the house.

"She saved his life, but she lost hers," says Sheila.

Sheila combs through muddied books and torn clothing scattered in the mud. She's been working all day trying salvage as much as she can.

Fighting back tears, she says it's the least she can do for her friend.

"I mean she's lost everything," says Sheila, "but she has her life and her son's alive. So that's the most important thing."

When Sandy Burchett arrives, she shakes her head for a moment. It's her first time seeing the damage in person.

Then, she and Sandy set out on a mission to find her favorite Bible with her detailed notes inside, her quilt, and her son's military jacket.

"I haven't really had time to process any of this," says Sandy.

She steps on and breaks a muddied Ella Enchanted DVD that once belonged to one of her children- she doesn't even notice.

Sandy and Sheila share laughs about some of the items they discover (like her favorite herbal tea), but amidst those moments of brevity the sadness lingers in the background.

"This is all my memories, with all my kids," Sandy says. "I raised my kids by myself, so this is kind of hard.... but my son. He's okay. That's all I can ask."

The tornado might have turned neighborhoods into junkyards, but there's one thing it could never change...

"People are out there wanting to do anything and everything they can and I think that's so amazing," Sheila tells us, "The lord is just blessing, because the community comes together, and it's Appomattox strong."

Family and friends have set up a GoFundMe page for the Burchett family. To see what you can do to help, click here.

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