Remembering Northeast Mississippi Storm victims

By NEMS Daily Journal






The six people who died in last weekend’s storms were victims only in the sense of their deaths. In life, they were sons, daughters, parents, athletes and classmates, providers and caregivers. Here are their remembrances.

Monique Braham: Sweet and smiling
– SHANNON – Nancy Anderson’s final memory of Monique Braham was like so many of the moments she had spent with her niece over the past 16 years.
It was punctuated by Monique’s smile.
Monique, a freshman at Shannon High School who played both softball and basketball for the Lady Raiders, was killed May 2 in a storm-related traffic accident.
“My last memory of her is Sunday at church,” Anderson said. “We were singing in choir. She was really pretty and was wearing a pink, white and yellow dress with a pink sweater. We were singing and clapping and having a good time, and she was just smiling.”
Monique had shown a lot of promise on the softball diamond, where the shortstop played next to her sister, senior third baseman Shakelia Hooks.
“Monique was a special young lady,” said Shannon softball coach Stephanie Phillips. “She had a great deal of potential. She was competitive, athletic and effortless with her play. It came natural to her.
“However good of a player she was and could have been, she was an even better person.”
On the Thursday before she died, Monique was presented the defensive award for the slow-pitch softball team at the school’s athletics awards banquet.
Monique, who was also a point guard on the basketball team, belonged to The Word Church in Tupelo. She sang in the choir and was a part of the youth drummer team.
“She was shy at first, but once you got to know her, she was very outgoing,” Anderson said. “She was a sweet person. She loved her sisters and cousins, and they hung out a whole lot.”
Shannon Assistant Principal Bill Rosenthal called Monique a “very popular student.” He said when he went to visit her at the emergency room the night of the accident, there were about 200 people there, including classmates, friends and family.
“She was always smiling,” Rosenthal said.
– Chris Kieffer

Thomas Cowan: The working man
– ASHLAND – Thomas Catrell Cowan Jr., 26, had worked since his early teens. He’d worked in stores, in warehouses and even as a teacher’s assistant at Ashland Middle School.
When his last job with a big company became a victim of downsizing, “Trell” Cowan started barber school with the knowledge that it could make him his own boss.
“He was a quiet, calm type,” said Calrenease Cook, Cowan’s mother. “He was always a very bright student. He didn’t have to study much, but he always knew the answers.”
Cowan had studied computer engineering at Northwest Community College. His abilities with computers reflected his innate talent for picking up skills quickly.
“He could go into a computer and tear it down and rebuild it,” Cook said. “He never studied music, but he could play the keyboard and sing.”
He persuaded relatives to let him cut their hair. Their pleasant surprise at the results convinced him to go to barber school to earn a license.
In contrast to many of his peers, Cowan had studiously avoided becoming a father, Cook said. He was engaged to LaToya Long, who was also killed in the May 2 tornado.
“I told him, if you’re going to have kids, make sure it’s with somebody you want to spend the rest of your life with,” Cook said.
It was perhaps his work ethic that most clearly defined Trell Cowan, though.
“When he was 14, my husband and I got a divorce. We were struggling, and he said, ‘Mama, I’m going to get a job,’” Cook recalled. “He went to work at Webster’s (food store) in Ashland. He paid my light bill for six months.”
While at Northwest, Cowan had held down two jobs in addition to maintaining his studies, Cook said. He was also generous with friends, such as when a co-worker with small children was struggling, and Cowan paid his mortgage for several months.
“He worked for what he wanted. He never asked me for nothing. Most kids have their hands hanging out, but this kid worked,” Cook said. “It helps me to talk about the good he did. Some of it I didn’t even learn about until he was gone.”
– Errol Castens

LaToya Long: ‘Ambitious young lady’
– ASHLAND – LaToya Long had always known she wanted to be in health care, so it surprised no one to see her start by pursuing a Certified Nurse Assistant license.
Her aunt, Laura Shamblin, said Long was eager to work both for the enjoyment of helping others and for the advantages that came with a paycheck. With that desire came certain self-disciplines that made her stand out.
“It’s really hard to find a 25-year-old who doesn’t have any children and who is working and in school,” Shamblin said. “She didn’t walk around with her butt hanging out and her chest hanging out. She didn’t even think that was cute.”
Long had also made a regular habit of being on call for extra work.
“She worked for her fiance’s mother on weekends,” Shamblin said. “She was a very ambitious young lady.”
Not that the Verona native was all work and no play. She’d enjoyed playing in the band during her days as a student at Shannon High School, and she had dreams of traveling to far-flung parts of the globe. Closer to home, she had a gusto for the gustatory.
“She loved to eat,” Shamblin recalled. “She’d get in her car and drive to Southaven just to go to TGI Friday’s.”
Long also loved spending time with her fiance, “Trell” Cowan, who also died in the May 2 tornado in Ashland.
“If just one of them had died, the other would have been miserable; that’s why God took them both,” Shamblin said.
LaToya’s death has clearly left a void among her extended family.
“You never think when a young woman leaves to spend the night with her fiance that it’s going to be the last time they see her,” Shamblin said. “She would tell us, ‘Life is short. Live each day to the fullest, because you never know when it may end.’”
At Friday night’s visitation, her aunt noted the hint of celebration that Long’s life had left in its wake.
“I’m watching her mother and father greet people with a smile on her face,” she said. “They know she’s in a better place. She’s with her grandfather, her fiance and her Lord.”
– Errol Castens

Larry T. Jones: ‘One of a kind’
– CORINTH – Saturday’s burial of Larry T. Jones with full military honors marked a life lived with integrity.
At his death in last weekend’s bad weather, his widow, Joyce Shortridge Jones, lost her partner of 27 years and her best friend.
“He always made me feel like I was the most wonderful person in life,” Joyce Jones recalled last week. “Everything I did was all right with him. We had very few arguments, and he fit in my own family like it was his family.”
Larry Jones, 76, was an Air Force veteran of the Korean Conflict and technical writer for defense industry agencies and businesses. The two met when he was headed off to an assignment in Saudi Arabia.
The pastor of their church in Manassas, Va., suggested Larry have Joyce handle his business affairs while he was abroad.
“About a year after he returned, we were married,” Joyce Jones said.
The marriage between the two divorcees blended his family of three children and her family of five children.
“You know it takes a special man to marry a woman with five children,” she said.
That he also adopted her children is another indicator of his character, said adopted son Raymond Jones.
“I always knew him as my dad,” Raymond said. “He was always there for me and made sure I was always taken care of. He was one of a kind.”
A book of poetry – “Because I Remember Bobby” – written in 1974 at the passing of a co-worker, shows even more the kind of man Larry Jones was, said first-born son David Jones.
“His co-worker had multiple sclerosis, and Dad would pick him up and take him to work every day, lifting him out of his wheelchair and into the car, then out of the car and back into the wheelchair when they got there,” David said. “It was the same going home, and this went on for years until his co-worker died.”
The family moved to Corinth after Larry Jones’ retirement in the mid-1990s. They had previously lived on the Gulf Coast, and after moving to Tucson, Ariz., for several years, wanted to return to Mississippi.
“I have never seen a neighborhood be more supportive, with people reaching out with love and caring,”Joyce Jones said.
– Lena Mitchell

Phyllis Sabbatini: The caregiver
– ABBEVILLE – Phyllis Ann Sabbatini, 45, was “a very giving person, whether to people or to animals,” said her sister, Millie Sabbatini Dunlap. “That’s probably the best way to describe her.”
Sabbatini grew up in the Coahoma County town of Lyon and started on a career path aimed at a helping profession at a young age.
Even before completing Belhaven College in Jackson, she began working with drug and alcohol rehabilitation clients, including a time as a counselor with Haven House, a chemical dependency residential rehab center in Oxford.
“It seemed like that was her calling – to try to help people,” said James Tyson, Haven House’s director of substance abuse service.
About six years ago, she’d switched to vocational rehab, opting to serve clients at AbilityWorks in Oxford to rebuild their capacity to be productive members of the work force.
The week before her death in Sunday’s tornado, Sabbatini had helped a client who has cancer to get assistance in paying his medical bills.
“She was always taking care of everyone else,” Marva Paul, facility manager for AbilityWorks, remembered.
When she could, Sabbatini would visit her sisters or gather with them at their mother’s home, but most weekends found her studying. She completed a master’s degree from the University of Kentucky last year, Dunlap said.
Because of the time she invested in her studies – and perhaps because her professional life was so involved with people – Sabbatini tended to be a private person at home.
Less than three years ago, Sabbatini had bought her house in Abbeville, where she lived there with her Yorkshire terrier, Bruiser, and her Chinese Crested, Caleb.
“The prior owner was one of her clients. They had done a lot of work on the house or maybe even built parts of it,” Dunlap said. “It had some land with it, and some nice porches, and it gave her a place to live with her dogs. She was a very big animal lover.”
– Errol Castens

Tyler Sloan: Sports, but more
– SALTILLO – Tyler Sloan was smart, athletic and handsome, and one year away from college graduation when his life ended suddenly and tragically last weekend.
Sloan, a 20-year-old junior at Mississippi State University, was born in Memphis but attended Saltillo High School, where he quarterbacked the football team. His grandfather, James Sloan, coached football at Saltillo High School, as well as rival Shannon High School and Tupelo High.
The young man also had played church league ball and coached a youth team.
“He was extremely involved with a lot of things, of course with sports,” said Saltillo football coach Greg May, who had known Sloan since middle school. “But any student could always approach him. He wasn’t what you’d call a jock or anything like that. He was real personable.”
He also was fun-loving, said one of his best friends, Wesley Wilemon, who fondly recalled Sloan’s positive attitude, strong morals and his penchant for eating strawberry sherbet mixed with gummy bears.
“We both ate it,” Wilemon said. “That’s one of the things I told his mama.”
Wilemon also said he and Sloan never drank or smoked while growing up.
“We liked to have fun,” he said, “but we didn’t do anything real stupid. That’s why we got along.”
After graduation in 2008, Sloan attended Northeast Community College and was a member of Phi Theta Kappa. While there, he was awarded a scholarship to MSU. He was just finishing his junior year in an occupational therapy major.
He also was a member of Northstar Church and also attended Parkway Baptist Church.
“He was a good Christian guy,” said Wesley Bell, who played high school football with Sloan and was among his best friends.
“Tyler was a very outgoing person, he always had a smile on his face no matter what. I don’t think I ever saw him mad,” Bell said. “Even after everything that’s happened, he’s going to motivate me to be a better person and to keep going because that’s the kind of guy he was, to live every day to the fullest.”
– Emily Le Coz