Mississippi sheriff’s deputy, wife died as he shielded her from tornado striking their home

Published 9:54 pm Sunday, April 12, 2020

Strong storms pounded the Deep South on Sunday, killing at least seven people in south Mississippi including a sheriff’s deputy and his wife and damaging up to 300 homes and other buildings in northern Louisiana.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency director Greg Michel said one person killed was in Walthall County, two were killed in Lawrence County and three were killed in Jefferson Davis County. All three counties are more than an hour’s drive south of Jackson, near the Louisiana state line.

Another person was confirmed dead in Jones County, the Laurel Leader-Call newspaper reported.

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State media confirmed the identity of the two people in Lawrence County as a county sheriff’s deputy, Robert Ainsworth, and his wife Paula. The couple was reportedly killed inside their home.

The Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office confirmed the deaths on social media.

“Robert was a United States Marine Corp veteran and a long time employee here,” the sheriff’s office wrote on Facebook. “Mrs. Paula was a former Justice Court Deputy Clerk at the Lawrence County Justice Court and currently a Justice Court Deputy Clerk for the Walthall County Justice Court.”

The sheriff’s department said the both died together at their home when a presumed tornado struck.

“Robert left this world a hero, as he shielded Mrs. Paula during the tornado,” the sheriff’s office wrote.

The National Weather Service said strong winds were sweeping through other parts of Mississippi, and a tornado was spotted north of Meridian near the Alabama state line.

Before the storms moved into Mississippi, the weather service reported multiple tornadoes and damaging winds over much of northern Louisiana.

There were no immediate reports of serious injuries. Utility companies reported thousands of power outages.

The mayor of Monroe, Louisiana, Jamie Mayo, told KNOE-TV that the storm damaged 200-300 homes in and around the city.

Flights were canceled at Monroe Regional Airport, where siding was ripped off buildings and debris was scattered on runways.

Airport director Ron Phillips told the News-Star the storm caused up to $30 million in damage to planes inside a hangar.

In northwest Louisiana, officials reported damage to dozens of homes in DeSoto and Webster parishes, according to news outlets.

The weather service said the greatest risk for strong Easter Sunday storms covered much of Mississippi, Alabama and western Georgia.

That area was at “moderate risk” while much of the rest of the South was under at least a “marginal” risk, the weather service said.

The weather service said a broader area, from east Texas to the East Coast was under at least a “marginal” risk of storms.

In Morgan County, Alabama, a church roof and steeple were damaged by lightning Sunday afternoon, Morgan County Emergency Management Agency Eddie Hicks told AL.com.

Shoals Creek Baptist Church in Priceville was struck by lightning Sunday afternoon.

No injuries were reported.

WBMA-TV reported that strong winds damaged buildings and snapped trees in Walker County, Alabama, north of Birmingham.