Family recovering after deadly Duette tornado

Jim Leonard

DUETTE, Fla. (WFLA) – When a Tornado hit Duette early Sunday morning, volunteer fire chief Jim Leonard was already awake. An alert told him bad weather was coming.

“We got the first one at 3:28,” Leonard said.

His home is so close to the affected area, his lights went out when the storm hit. “After a few minutes the power went out so then we knew we were really in for it,” Leonard said.

Leonard’s daughter is also a member of the volunteer fire department. They were the first to arrive at the home where two people were killed, and four children and another adult were injured.

Jim Leonard
Jim Leonard

“We started hearing kids screaming and yelling and they kind of ran at us out of the dark and the rain,” Leonard said.

They immediately began to help the children. “They had injuries, obviously. There were scrapes and bumps and bruises, scared to death and then the father came out, and he had a pretty decent head injury. So we basically put them in my truck. I have a Bronco that I drive for command purposes. I got out of the vehicle and put them in the vehicle, and my daughter proceeded to do patient care and evaluation on them,” Leonard said.

The victims’ home was little more than a pile of debris after the storm hit. “There was nothing, other than when you got close you could see pieces of doors and framing and cabinets, and at the time we couldn’t even see the floor frames that were off in the field to the north,” Leonard said.

Brendan Betancourt is a friend of the family that was devastated by the tornado. He set up a GoFundMe account to help them.

“I heard about the devastation that happened and the tragedy that unfolded the other evening and I felt compelled to assist them in any way I could give them,” Betancourt said.

He said the two girls injured in the storm have been moved out of intensive care and are now in a regular hospital room. The two boys injured have been treated and released, but Betancourt said they will need financial help.

“Considering what’s happened, they are doing pretty well. The outreach that they’ve received from the community and the support they’ve had has been tremendous,” he added. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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