It was like any other day. If anything, it might have been a little better than usual -- with more deserved honors for the kids, more jokes and songs, more smiles. Even Mother Nature, after storms the previous day, seemed at first to cooperate as the sun shone brightly.
But things changed quickly.
And in Oklahoma, where adults and children alike habitually practice what to do if a tornado strikes, change can prove deadly.
Things are different, more heartbreaking now for students and staff at Plaza Towers and Briarwood elementary schools in Moore, both of them leveled by a tornado.
"A lot of pain, a lot of tears, very little food and very little sleep is the way you get through it," Plaza Towers principal Amy Simpson said Friday.
The memories linger. They are not just of the horrible moments when the twister tore through their schools, but the minutes before as teachers did what they could to keep their students safe and in control as it approached, the short time before that as frenzied parents rushed in looking for their sons and daughters, and the hours before that when everything seemed perfect.
"What started off as a normal day at Plaza Towers tuned into a horrible, horrible thing for seven families," said Simpson, referring to the seven of her students killed by the storm.
A frenzied, yet controlled few horrific minutes
Each school week at Plaza Towers starts with "Rise and Shine." It's a chance for students to see their teachers and counselors, to sing and recite the school creed, and to honor youngsters' accomplishments inside and outside school.
"During that morning meeting, we celebrate kids," the school's principal said.
On Monday, the celebrations didn't end there. Simpson recalled then heading to an hour-long award ceremony for first and second graders to toast their many achievements, then to a practice for sixth-graders' commencement exercises.
After that, kids started filing into the cafeteria for the first of six lunch sessions the school has.
"Everything in the morning went exactly as it has for the last 170 days," Simpson recalled.
It was after lunch that teachers first got word to be on alert for severe weather.
Still, at that point, no one knew a twister was heading their way. Simpson continued to go about her business, interviewing a candidate for a pre-kindergarten position, when she noticed heavy thunderstorms roll through.
Simpson ended the interview and noticed parents starting to stream in to pick up their kids. This happens often when it rains heavily, but the principal sensed something abnormal was up as parents rushed in faster and in greater numbers than usual.
"At that point, I made a decision that you didn't have to check out your child the formal way," Simpson recalled, saying she stood out front to see who was coming and going.
Some parents were noticeably scared. One father, Simpson said, was "in a panic." She told him that he had to calm down -- so as not to alarm any students -- before he went through the hallways to retrieve his child.
This steady stream lasted 5 or 6 minutes before the sirens went off, indicating a tornado on the ground. Simpson got on the intercom and told everyone to do what they'd practiced in all those drills. Then she walked up and down the hallways. (She couldn't get to where her second and third-graders were, however, as they were in a different building.)
Some teachers tracked the twister on mobile devices, until Simpson asked them to turn them off. She did another walk-through and saw her staffers rubbing the backs of their students, some of whom -- with their heads down and hands over their heads -- sang.