Jones, family trying to move on after Hurricane Michael

From 700 miles away, Reakwon Jones heard the screams.

As Hurricane Michael slammed into Panama City, Fla., two weeks ago, crashing its way through the Florida Panhandle, Jones’ family took cover at home. Every few hours, with the storm sweeping ashore, Indiana’s junior linebacker checked in, hoping his call would place.

Cell towers across the area went inoperable as the winds whipped and the rain pummeled Bay County. But at least one wireless carrier, MetroPCS, remained online, connecting Jones with his stepdad, Marcus Broxton, while the violence neared. During one call, a tree fell on the family home while Jones’ loved ones huddled inside.

Back in Bloomington, Jones prayed. He hadn’t seen his family since January. By the way things sounded, he wasn’t sure he’d see them again.

“I heard everyone scream,” Jones said. “It broke my heart because I couldn’t be there and then just hearing them go through that … My mom told me that my little sister was crying the whole time it was going on. It hurt a lot.”

Both his mother’s and his father’s homes are wrecked now, Jones said. Clothes, keepsakes and memories were swept away. As Indiana prepared for games against Iowa and Penn State across the past two weeks, Jones’ attention was split, his heart broken.

These days, Jones and family are trying to press on.

There was some relief this past weekend, some much-needed sunshine inside the lingering storm of uncertainty over where Jones and his family go from here.

Jones’ mother, Tanya Mitchell, his youngest sister, T’yana Broxton, his youngest brother, Omari Broxton, and his step dad, Marcus Broxton, rented a car and made the 10-plus-hour drive to Indiana to watch the Hoosiers play Penn State on Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.

And for at least a weekend, as they crowded into his modest living space in Bloomington, Jones and his family were whole again.

“I really needed it and they really needed it, too,” Jones said, “just to get away and be able to lay eyes on each other and let each other know that everything was going to be OK.”

That’s what Jones’ mother relayed over the phone during those harrowing hours and uncertain days. If you’re OK, Tanya told him, I’m OK. It’s a message that Jones has kept close.

Hurricane Michael was an unprecedented Category 4 storm for the Florida Panhandle, punching with maximum sustained winds of 155 miles per hour.

To watch it unfold and learn of the devastation left in its wake left Jones feeling helpless.

Helpless, then hopeful.

“I felt really down because everybody wants to be there with their family or friends when they’re going through something tough,” Jones said. “To actually hear the pain in their voice when I was talking to them, it hurt. But my mom is really strong and she encouraged me.”

After the storm passed, those who remained in the Panama City area were under a curfew. At the first chance to leave, Jones’ family did, yet with nowhere to stay, they went to live temporarily with Jones’ step dad’s grandmother in Alabama.

But Jones wanted them closer — away from the destruction, away from the pain. Last week, the family agreed to drive to Indiana. On Friday, they arrived in Bloomington, where Tanya had made only one previous trip. That was when she dropped off Reakwon at IU as a freshman in 2015.

Not long after stepping off the team bus prior to Saturday’s game against Penn State, Jones saw them all — his mother, his step dad, his youngest sister and his youngest brother — during The Walk, IU’s team procession from the parking lot into Memorial Stadium.

It was an emotional, albeit brief, reunion that continued later that evening.

“After the game, I got to hang out with them,” Jones said. “They stayed with me because they couldn’t afford to stay anywhere else. They stayed with me in my little one-bedroom with my two dogs. We made it work. We packed up in there, hung out and had fun, caught up, talked and shared feelings. It was just great. It was really good for me. It’s really hard to focus when you haven’t seen your family in forever.”

Especially amid the circumstances.

“He’s been through a lot through these last several days with all that,” IU coach Tom Allen said. “So you think about our guys and what they go (through). It’s not just football. There’s a lot of other things that go into this.”

On Sunday, ahead of their trip south, his brother and sister put up a fight, Jones said. They didn’t want to leave Bloomington. There’s not necessarily a home to return to, but maybe soon that will change.

With the help of IU’s compliance department, Jones and his family have created a GoFundMe account to help get them back on their feet. As of Monday evening, it had raised more than $3,600 in donations.

“I’m not looking for big donors,” Jones said. “Whatever someone can donate, we’re grateful for anything that happens. We’re just trying to find a way to restart and build on and move on in life and put this in the past. No one wants to hang on to this forever.”

In the meantime, Jones is clinging to his Indiana team.

“I can use that to find happiness because football has always been my life and been something that makes me extremely happy,” Jones said. “When I go to football, it’s definitely a different mindset. I’m smiling.”

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