Entertainment And News

Girlfriend Of Amazon Worker Who Died In Warehouse Collapse Says He Wasn't Allowed Leave Before Tornado Hit

Photo: Cherie Jones / Facebook
Larry Virden and Cherie Jones

An Amazon warehouse collapse in Edwardsville, Illinois has shed light on the dangerous conditions employees of the tech giant face.

The warehouse was reduced to rubble amid a string of tornadoes that has been hitting the midwest.

There were at least seven casualties among the Amazon workers who were working inside the warehouse during the deadly storm — leaving six of dead and one wounded.

Now, accounts from victims' loved ones suggest the company's actions during the storm may have compromised the safety of their workers.

The girlfriend of one Amazon worker said they weren’t allowed to leave the warehouse.

Larry Virden was 46-years-old when he tragically passed away after the roof of the massive Amazon warehouse collapsed.

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“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 … I was like ‘OK, I love you.’ He’s like, ‘well Amazon won’t let me leave until after the storm blows over,’” Cherie Jones, Virden’s girlfriend of 13 years, told the New York Post on Sunday.

She said she received the text around 8:23pm, 16 minutes before the tornado reportedly touched down. 

“We heard the tornado didn’t touch down until 8:39 so he had 20 minutes to get home,” she said. The couple's home is in nearby Collinsville, which Jones says is about 13 minutes away from the warehouse.

“I messaged him and that was the last text message I got from him. I told him where we live, it was only lightning at the time. After that, I got nothing from him.”

Virden and Jones shared four kids together, including one adopted child and three children between the ages of nine and 12. He had only been working at the Amazon warehouse for five months.

Jones does not blame Amazon for the warehouse deaths. 

When the Post asked her if she faulted Amazon for his death, she sighed and said “Not really. But it’s that what-if situation: What if they would have let him leave? He could have made it home.”

According to Amazon, the Edwardsville warehouse received multiple tornado warnings through various alerts and the team on-site at the time was working to get as many workers and partners into a designated shelter area.

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“He had a missile blow up in front of him like 200 yards away, so he was lucky over there,” she said of his deployment to Iraq. “When he was over there, he made his peace with the maker so he was prepared to die. But we didn’t want him to die now.”

Above all else, their children were struggling to understand where their father was.

“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,” she explained. “When my daughter came into the house, she was like, ‘Where’s Daddy? Where’s Daddy?’ And she started bawling because she knew something was wrong.”

She said that their youngest doesn’t understand either and that they’re going to have to sit down with the kids and explain what happened.

On Sunday, Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said “We’re deeply saddened by the news that members of our Amazon family passed away as a result of the storm in Edwardsville, IL. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their loved ones, and everyone impacted by the tornado. We also want to thank all the first responders for their ongoing efforts on scene. We’re continuing to provide support to our employees and partners in the area.”

The company also said that they would be donating $1 million to the Edwardsville Community Foundation to support recovery efforts and that they were reaching out to the families affected to see if there was any way they could assist them financially.

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Isaac Serna-Diez is a writer who focuses on entertainment and news, social justice, and politics. Follow him on Twitter here.