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'Amazon won't let us leave': Dad of 4 texted in final message before being killed by tornado

Workers at a candle factory were told they would be fired if they left their shift early after hearing the warning signs.

'Amazon won't let us leave': Dad of 4 texted in final message before being killed by tornado
Left: Twitter/@moreperfectUS Right: (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Cherie Jones was waiting for her boyfriend to come home when she got a final text from him. "Amazon won't let me leave," read the text. Minutes later, the tornado hit the Amazon facility in Illinois, killing many including Larry Virden, Cherie Jones' boyfriend, who was also a father of four. Jones received the final text from Virden at 8.23 p.m. and at 8.30 p.m., the tornado struck the warehouse. "I got text messages from him. He always tells me when he is filling up the Amazon truck when he is getting ready to go back," said Jones, reported Yahoo News. "I was like ‘OK, I love you.’ He’s like, ‘well Amazon won’t let me leave until after the storm blows over.'" 

MAYFIELD, KENTUCKY - DECEMBER 12: Homes and business are reduced to rubble after a tornado ripped through the area two days prior, on December 12, 2021 in Mayfield, Kentucky. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)


Jones believes he had 20 minutes to get home. “I messaged him and that was the last text message I got from him,” she said. “I told him where we live, it was only lightning at the time. After that, I got nothing from him,” she said. The roof came down on the facility, killing at least six workers. He had been working for five months at the facility. Virden leaves behind four children. “My oldest boy, he thinks that daddy is going to come home, but now we have to tell him that daddy’s not coming home," said Jones, while their daughter sensed something was up the moment she realized he wasn't back home. "She started bawling because she knew something was wrong,” said Jones, who has to guide them through the heartbreak as she navigates her own emotions.



Amazon announced 'thoughts and prayers' for the workers who passed away at their facility. The company has come under heavy scrutiny amidst reports of banning employees from having their mobile phones on them which could have alerted them of the catastrophe heading their way and provided them crucial information and time to react. Having been denied access to emergency weather alerts and contact with family members, many employees weren't warned or prepared for what was to come. This comes at a time when Amazon is busy sending rich people to space. 


Many workers said they had never had a tornado or even a fire drill during the course of their careers dating back to six years, reported Intercept. One Amazon contractor was told that leaving for home early for the fear of Hurricane Ida would adversely affect their performance quota. The ticket messages show that the corporate didn't even realize the facility had been hit until they learned it from the media, meaning the workers weren't warned of the tornado. The company took the unusual step of encrypting internal help ticket messages about the Illinois facility after the tornado strike, making them inaccessible to most workers. “What the correspondence showed was that initially, nobody knew what was happening. It looks like they had almost no warning,” said an employee. Many workers said the management refused them permission to stay home during extreme weather conditions. "It’s always profit over employees,” said an employee.



Many are calling for a review of practices at Amazon, including the phone ban. “This incident calls into question so much of Amazon’s practices in their warehouses,” said Marcos Ceniceros, an organizer at Warehouse Workers for Justice, reported The Guardian. “This is not the first time we’ve seen workers suffer at Amazon and we want to make sure that they’re not continuing to cut corners and putting workers at risk.”



The workers at Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory, another spot which was severely hit by the tornado, also complained of superiors warning they'd be fired if they left their posts as the tornado approached, reported NBC News. Workers said they wanted to leave immediately after the warning sirens were heard but at least five workers stated that supervisors warned they'd be fired if they left their shifts early. At least 15 of them urged managers to let them go, but their requests were declined. Some left their shift, ignoring the warning from the supervisors. 



“People had questioned if they could leave or go home,” said McKayla Emery, 21, an employee at the factory who survived. “If you leave, you’re more than likely to be fired,” she overheard managers tell four workers who had requested to go home citing the extreme weather conditions. The company denied they held back employees. “I heard that with my own ears,” said Emery. Another worker said managers went so far as to taking a roll call to find out who had left work. 




This is a developing story, and we’ll update as we learn more. Information about the Kentucky tornado is swiftly changing, and Upworthy is committed to providing the most recent and verified updates in our articles and reportage. However, considering the frequency of developments, some of the information/data in this article may have changed since the time of publication.

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