• Lotte Drewitt

Who are the Butterfly People of Joplin?

We all want someone—or something—to protect us. The wish that angels or spirits are watching over and protecting us is universally shared among people everywhere. Evidence to prove that we are guarded by heavenly forces is difficult to find, but maybe not impossible. One event of our time may have provided the evidence we seek of loving, supernatural guardians in the form of beings now widely known as the butterfly people.

Illustration by J. Smith for The Journal of the Unexplained

The 7th deadliest tornado in recorded history struck Joplin, Missouri on May 22, 2011, according to a commemorative StoryMap created by the National Weather Service of Springfield, Missouri. This EF-5 tornado reached winds of over 200 miles per hour and tore a path of death and destruction over 22 miles long. Total injuries exceeded a thousand and over 150 people died. More than 7000 homes, stores, and workplaces were destroyed. And yet, over the days and weeks after all this devastation came strange reports of unexpected help from an unimaginable source, reports of people being protected from harm by colorful, beautiful, human-like entities: The butterfly people.


At first the stories were little more than rumors heard secondhand. Someone would tell someone else that they'd heard about children seeing angels—angels with butterfly wings—sheltering them from flying debris, or bringing people up to heaven. One in particular was retold often: A mother and her toddler run to a house as the tornado bears down on them. Desperate and terrified, the mother shields her babe with her body and prepares for the worst. But nothing happens. As the tornado moves away, the child peeps something like:

"Mama! Did you think they were pretty? Did you see them? The butterfly people..."

These stories, while they seemed to stretch the truth, at the same time filled people who heard them with much-needed hope. And as time went on, more children and even some adults came forward insisting they had been saved from certain death by the butterfly people.


Who Saw the Butterfly People?

Set up in order to help school children deal with their trauma, the Joplin Child Trauma Treatment Center became a critical source of mental health care for the community, where at least half of all children in the Joplin school system received aid. Therapists there heard stories firsthand from children and young adults who claimed to have seen white lights or "visions of butterflies or butterfly people that helped to...keep them safe," according to its clinical director, Dawnielle Robinson. These stories came from school children of all ages, rich and poor, regardless of their religious beliefs, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.


Children from all over the area shared their tales of tragedy turned miracle. An 11 year old boy related to his Sunday school class that he had seen the butterfly people on the night the tornado struck. A badly injured 14 year old girl claimed that real butterflies had been visiting her during the summer as she healed. In spite of the fact that her home was destroyed and there was nothing around to attract them, the butterflies would alight on her. In 2016, KOAM-TV, which covers news for the Joplin, Missouri and Pittsburg, Kansas areas, interviewed the girl, now a woman. She recounted how she had been taken by the winds and ripped up helplessly into the air, with debris battering her, injuring her. But then came a touch out of nowhere, and a feeling of peace.

“I remember a hand touching me on my left shoulder... I mean in no doubt in my mind it was an angel..." - Joplin tornado survivor.

And, while it may seem like only children witnessed the butterfly people, adults did, too.

In 2015, the television show Monsters and Mysteries in America recounted what a nurse who had been treating the injured after the tornado had seen. She believed that she witnessed a tall, robed figure watch over a mother and child she had come to help. At first she thought it was another person beside them. But then she realized it was an otherworldly presence, and believed without a doubt that it was there to help.

A Community Uses Creativity to Heal

Weeks after the tornado, the town of Joplin moved forward with its plans to paint a community mural. The Joplin Globe reported that the mural was the combined effort of over 200 local children and artists. It was decided that the mural would be an important symbol of what the town had gone through and what direction its citizens wanted to take for their future. And they wanted to share their spiritual experiences through their art, to include their heroism and tragedy alike, to show how they were reborn. So the butterfly became an obvious choice.

"Created with the help of community members and volunteers, The Butterfly Effect: Dreams Take Flight became a symbol of the hope, transformation, and restoration of Joplin." - Connect2Culture, a non-profit arts organization for the Joplin area.

At the mural's dedication, the president of the Chamber of Commerce for the Joplin area said in his speech of the butterfly people, “I think they were our guardian angels looking over us.”


Notes:

295 views0 comments