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Cooler Heads

Glurge:   Toddler found safe in a cooler 4 days after a tornado explains a man with wings put him there.

FALSE

Examples:   [Collected via e-mail, May 2011]

A 3 year old was found in a freezer in Pleasant Grove and when asked how he got into the freezer he said, "A man with wings put me in here."
 

A 3 yr old boy was found yesterday in Tuscaloosa in a cooler alive. They asked the boy who put him in there and he said "the man with wings put me in here."
 

Just thought I would share a little something will all of you. My sister is in Lawrence County helping the victims. Long story short, some people found a 3 year old little boy inside a drink cooler, ALIVE! The people asked him how he got in there. The little boy replied "The man with the wings put me in there!"
 

Search and rescue in Tuscaloosa, Alabama looked into a chest freezer and found a 3 year old alive and the officer asked the little boy how he got there and he stated "a man with wings put me here."

 

Origins:   On 27 April 2011, severe weather resulted in an outbreak of tornados that laid waste to many parts of Alabama and neighboring states and took the lives of more than 300 people. As is often the case when disaster exacts a large-scale toll, in the wake of the devastation a story arose about a miraculous survival. The yarn, while told with many of its smaller details altered, stated that days after the region was ravaged, a small child had been found unharmed in a cooler or freezer. Moreover, the child so discovered asserted he'd been placed in the container that had kept him safe by "a man with wings;" that is, an angel.

The tale spread in e-mail and on social networking sites. Variously:
  • The unnamed toddler was almost always a boy, but in one rare sighting was a girl.
  • While the child was usually three years old, in some tellings he was four or six.
  • He was found in Lawrence County, Pleasant Grove (which is in Jefferson County), or Tuscaloosa (which is in Tuscaloosa County).
  • The child was discovered in a freezer (of no special description), a chest freezer, a "deep freezer," a "drink box," a cooler (of no special description), a drink cooler, a "large red cooler," or "a large Igloo cooler."
  • He was found by: "some people," "search and rescuers," "a rescue worker," or "some volunteer workers."
News reports were utterly silent about any tornado or storm survivor having been discovered days afterwards in a freezer or cooler, let alone a toddler. Such an account of a miraculous recovery of a missing child, even absent the detail about "a man with wings" placing the youngster in a container strong enough to withstand Nature's forces, would have been picked up by any number of news agencies had it been true. It wasn't.

According to Tuscaloosa Fire and Rescue Service EMS Chief Travis Parker, no children have been found in refrigerators.

Some folks in the path of the twisters did take shelter in large freezers or walk-in coolers, such as the McDonald's employees in Ringgold, Georgia, who huddled in the metal cooler to escape a storm that sent a white van into the building's side.

It's possible a misunderstanding of an actual incident somehow led to the creation of the "child placed in an ice chest by an angel" legend. As tornados approached Joplin, Missouri, those in a local pizza restaurant sought to take shelter in that establishment's food locker, also known as a cooler. Among those were 12-year-old Kaid Fidler and 16-year-old Kristen Fidler. When the twister hit, the teens were sucked out of the building and bounced around by the tornado. Kristen, who sustained lesser injuries than her brother, located Kaid in the resulting debris and led rescuers to him. (The boy's injuries were such that he spent two months in a Kansas City hospital.)

There exists the possibility that real news accounts about Kaid's experience were garbled when his story was passed along verbally, with listeners unconsciously making substitutions when the tale was relayed to them, then passing along those substitutions as fact to others. There was a child and a cooler, after all, but the child was 12 and the cooler was a walk-in food locker in a restaurant. Yet "child" could have been parsed by listeners as "little tyke" and "cooler" as the sort of plastic Igloo ice chest typically hauled to picnics.

Belief in angels who come to the assistance of those in danger or who have suffered harm is a central theme of a number of legends, such as the child injured in a horrific accident who claims "the birdies" (angels) comforted and held him safe until help they'd summoned arrived, the murderous natives about to set upon a sleeping missionary who are driven away by the sight of the 26 guards (angels) protecting the blissfully unaware cleric, and the rapist who spares a gal he'd targeted because he didn't want to take on the two tall men (angels) walking beside her.

This account of a toddler retrieved from a cooler or freezer employs the theme of the rescued child who afterwards makes a startling pronouncement about interaction with heavenly entities, such as the fragile infant who after miraculously surviving her poor start in life grows into a little tyke who guilelessly reports rain "smells like God when you lay your head on His chest," the little girl who witnessed her father murder her mother and then turn the gun on himself who when years later is shown a picture of Jesus exclaims "That's the man who was holding me the night my parents died," and "the birdies" tale mentioned above.

Barbara "from the mouths of babes" Mikkelson

Last updated:   25 July 2011

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Sources:

    McCain, CoCo.   "The Good Stuff: Tornadoes Hit Home, But Prom Goes On."
    The Chattanoogan.   5 May 2011.

    Associated Press.   "Survivor Stories: Escaping Tornadoes' Fury."
    29 April 2011.

    KMBC-TV [Kansas City, MO].   "2 Metro Kids Caught In Joplin Twister Recovering."
    31 May 2011.

    KMBC-TV [Kansas City, MO].   "Boy Sucked Up Into Tornado Returns To Joplin."
    21 June 2011.