After the tornado: Madison Walters’ amazing journey

Kelly J. Kaczala

On June 5, 2010, a powerful tornado ripped through parts of Wood and Ottawa counties, claiming the lives of nine people. Three of them, Mary and Ryan Walters, and their four-year-old son, Hayden, were among the victims when the tornado leveled their house on Main Street in Millbury. Mary and Hayden died that night. Ryan died a week later from his injuries in a hospital. Amazingly, Mary and Ryan’s seven-year-old daughter, Madison, was the family’s sole survivor. Her aunt and uncle, Amy and Craig Sigler, took her in to raise as one of their own. 

On Sunday, May 23, Madison, 18, graduated with honors from Lake High School.

“Maddie is a super young lady who represents her family, school, and community in an exemplary manner,” said Jim Witt, superintendent of the Lake High School District.

Her GPA is 4.2, and she is ranked 10th in her class.

“Maddie is a little worker bee,” said Amy on Friday, May 21, as she made preparations for Maddie’s graduation party on Saturday at their church, the Main Street Church in Walbridge.

 “She’s very focused on continuing to have high levels of academics. She’s very driven. She’s a Type A personality. Just loves to achieve and do well in school. It kind of comes naturally to her.”

Besides being on the Honor Roll, she was named February Student of the Month at Lake High School. Her membership in activities and clubs include: Golf, National Honor Society, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Students in Action. Her activities include serving opportunities on the worship team at church and other service events, such as mission trips.

Maddie has, indeed, come a long way since that tragic June day. 

“Our faith in Jesus is extremely important to us,” said Amy. “It’s why we survived 11 years ago. By the grace of God, we are not angry, hurt and just bitter. We’ve seen so many good things come of this.”

Amy was three years younger than her sister, Mary, Maddie’s mom. The two families were always close, and lived just minutes away from each other.

Amy and Craig have twin daughters who are 16 months younger than Maddie.

“She would spend the night with us. So it was not an abnormal thing to have time together,” she said. 


A normal day

Amy recalls June 5, 2010 as being just “a normal day before the tornado hit.

“I was at home. I was getting ready for bed. My brother Daniel, in Waterville got a hold of us. He saw the storm on television. He said, ‘You need to look at this storm.’ I had just talked to my sister that afternoon. Everyone was trying to contact Mary and my brother–in-law, but nobody could reach them.”

Mary and Ryan had likely been alerted about the tornado, but were unable to find shelter in time, said Amy.

“Based upon how they found their bodies, Ryan must have been heading from upstairs with Maddie and my sister was heading through the middle section of the house with Hayden. When their bodies were found, Mary and Hayden were on their property, and Ryan and Maddie had been thrown 25 feet across the street. Ryan had Maddie in his arms. The coroner and the different medical professionals at the time assumed Ryan must have held Maddie because he hit the ground first and had 27 skull fractures. Mary died on the way to the hospital. She was alive when the paramedics got there, but her heart couldn’t handle it. Then they found Hayden the next day in the rubble underneath the front of the house,” recalls Amy.

Maddie suffered a concussion, a fractured collarbone, and a broken left leg.

“A hospice therapist, who was a pediatric grief counselor, came to see us. My brother-in- law worked at Hospice and she knew him. She said I needed to be honest with Maddie because `you’re probably going to be the one raising her.’”

The therapist told Amy she had a choice: To either tell Maddie the truth of the loss of her family, or lie to her.

“She’s either going to trust me or hate me based on what happens.” Amy said she decided to tell Maddie what had happened to her family.

“I crawled into bed with her. Maddie’s little seven-year-old mind tried to process what had happened. I sat there in bed with her for three or four hours. And she just cried and cried. So we snuggled in bed for another couple of hours. Needless to say, the Divine Plan was much more Divine than we had anticipated,” said Amy.

Community support for the family was “phenomenal,” she said.

“A physical therapist from the Main Street Church volunteered her time. She did therapy sessions at our pool. Our church family made us meals, and people came to take care of our lawn.” A ramp was also built on the front porch to accommodate Maddie’s wheelchair.

“It was amazing to see how the community supported us,” she said. People in Lake Township and the surrounding areas also offered their support, she added. 

Maddie’s faith was evident when she told people she didn’t know why everyone was making such a big deal about what happened because her family “was in Heaven.”

“When she was seven, right after it happened, she was driving somewhere with her grandma. She said, `Why do people keep making such a big deal about this? They know my mom and dad are in Heaven with Jesus. Can’t they just move on?’ This was a seven-year-old kid who had the ability to decompartmentalize it in some way. It blew us away her ability to either suppress it or handle it. She did an amazing job of being able to process it. Her thoughts and comments over the years have varied and changed. But the singular focus has always been, `My parents are gone, but I have this amazing family that is raising me.’” 



Maddie told The Press last week she has no memory of June 5, 2010, likely due to the concussion she sustained. She barely remembers getting her hair cut that evening by Mary’s best friend in her backyard. She doesn’t remember getting thrown. She doesn’t remember anything. She does not remember her family much, either, which can be frustrating at times, she said.

“Before the tornado, my parents and my aunt and uncle and cousins were very close. We lived not even a minute from each other, which was nice,” said Maddie. “We went on vacations together. So even though it was really hard to lose my parents and my brother, it wasn’t as hard as it could have been because I already knew my aunt, uncle and cousins. It was a big transition moving into their family, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.”

Even though her academic achievements are many, Maddie doesn’t necessarily like school.

“I don’t really love school. I do well in it. But I’d rather do something else, like going to the beach,” she laughed. If she had to pick a favorite subject, it is Math. “It’s the subject I do the best in. My least favorite is English. I do not like it.”

She loves going on vacations. Maddie, Amy, Maddie’s best friend and her best friend’s mom are planning a trip to Hawaii in August. “We were supposed to go to Paris, then it got canceled because of COVID. So we decided to go to Hawaii, because it’s in the United States. It’s going to be super fun,” she said. She also loves to babysit, particularly a family she babysits for two times per week.

She plans to major in business, with a minor in marketing, at Huntington University in Indiana, where she will enroll in the fall. ”I’m really excited,” she said.

Maddie makes it clear her faith in Jesus has sustained her over the years.

“After the tornado, if I didn’t have God at the center of my life, then I would not be where I’m at today. I’d probably still be upset that my parents passed away. I still get a little upset, but I know there is hope I will see them again after I pass away and go to Heaven. I feel that has helped me get through the tragedy of the tornado.”




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