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'They didn't know where to gather' | Miami man helps organize Mayfield memorial

Miami volunteer Leo Soto also helped to organize the memorial from the Surfside condominium collapse earlier this year.

MAYFIELD, Ky. — A Miami man came to Mayfield to set up a memorial honoring Kentuckians lost in the tornadoes.

Leo Soto, from Miami, spent Thursday putting up flowers and photos memorializing those lost.

“After the Surfside building collapse in Miami, I helped organize the memorial there and I saw just how impactful it was for the community members there,” Soto said. “A lot of the things that happened in Surfside, I see similarities here. In terms of people walking around, they didn’t know where to go. They didn’t know where to gather.”

Soto hung up 37 names and photos of those lost Thursday, and he hopes the public will continue expanding the memorial after he leaves.

Credit: Rachel Droze/WHAS-TV

“When you come here and you see the faces, you see a small two month old child – a baby – that’s no longer with you, it really hits you,” Soto said.

Soto also got some local help.

Makayla Wadkins, who lives just outside of Mayfield, told Soto she would love to help him plan out the area of remembrance when he reached out.

They decided to build it around the Graves County Courthouse, which was one of many buildings destroyed in Friday night’s storm.

“These are people,” Wadkins said. “These are people’s family members.”

Credit: Rachel Droze/WHAS-TV

Wadkins spent the tornado sheltering with her one-year-old daughter.

“I hurt my wrist because I was gripping her car seat so hard while it was happening,” Wadkins said.

Wadkins said seeing the babies and young children’s names and photos has been difficult to take in.

“As a mom, it’s so scary to think that could have been us and so gut-wrenching and sad to know it was someone else,” Wadkins said.

Helping organize the memorial has helped her cope, and Wadkins said she hopes others in the community find comfort in the photos, flowers and memories of those lost.

“Just being able to place a photo of your loved one with their name on it, especially in a big tragedy like this, and see that they are not forgotten and they are not just a number,” Wadkins said.

Soto hopes as days pass following the storm, the memorial grows so the memories of those lost don’t disappear.

“People have already brought shirts,” Soto said. “Someone just put up an American flag a couple minutes ago. It’s beautiful. People are going to express their grief in whatever way they see fit and that’s what makes it so amazing.”

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