Courtesy Angela Hornsby

Ja’Nae Hornsby, 9, (right) with her cousin Taylor, 14, in a photo taken over the weekend.

A 9-year-old girl who was “always smiling” is among the first of the Oklahoma tornado victims to be identified.

Third-grader Ja’Nae Hornsby was one of the students who perished when the twister demolished Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Okla. on Monday afternoon.

Members of her grieving family gathered Tuesday at a Baptist church in Oklahoma City to console each other after a night of anxious waiting ended with a hope-shattering call from the medical examiner’s office.

Her aunt, Angela Hornsby, said Ja’Nae had spent last weekend at her house, playing with her cousins and “doing what little girls do.”

 

“They like to play dress-up,” she recalled. “My daughter puts jewelry on them and I took pictures of them dancing together and they took video. They were just happy.

“She was always happy, always smiling.”

Courtesy Angela Hornsby

Ja’Nae Hornsby, 9, with her 2-year-old sister Jia, in a photo taken over the weekend.

On Monday, Ja’Nae went off to Plaza Towers Elementary School while her father, Joshua, headed into Oklahoma City for work.

As the tornado bore down on the suburb of Moore just before dismissal time, the father of two tried to race back home to get Ja’Nae from school and his two-year-old, Jia, from daycare, Angela Hornsby said.

The highways were jammed, though, and by the time he got to Moore, the grade school had been reduced to a pile of rubble, its parking lot transformed into a triage area for surviving students being pulled from the debris.

There was no sign of Ja’Nae, though. Her father and other relatives shuttled from shelter to shelter, “looking for answers,” Angela Hornsby said. She dialed all the hospitals that had taken the injured but could not find her niece.

 

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Benjamin Krain / Getty Images
An aerial view shows destroyed houses and buildings on May 21 in Moore, Okla.

Joshua Lott / AFP – Getty Images
A woman and young boy walk along a street and view destroyed houses on May 21 in Moore, Okla.

Jewel Samad / AFP – Getty Images
A man salvages items from what is left of a bedroom of his home on May 21 in Moore, Okla.