December 14, 2021
It was a tragedy of horrific proportions, no matter what time of year it happened to occur in.
But for a northern Florida family to be grieving the loss of a father and his young son on a highly anticipated duck-hunting trip to northwestern Tennessee’s Reelfoot Lake, the grief is almost unimaginable here in the middle of the holiday season.
Especially just two weeks before Christmas Day and only a couple of weeks after the father became a grandfather for the first time.
That’s the terrible reality confronting members of a Tallahassee, Fla., family after the tragic deaths last Friday night of 50-year-old Steve Gunn and his 12-year-old son Grayson, who lost their lives when a tornado swept through Reelfoot Lake State Park and reduced portions of the Cypress Point Resort to rubble.
Part of a swarm of nearly three dozen tornadoes that left at least 90 people dead, including one tornado that was reportedly on the ground for more than 100 miles, the father and son had traveled to the region anticipating a fun duck hunt at the height of the season.
With duck season underway and the post-rut period keeping deer hunters in the woods, many others were doing the same in numerous small- and moderate-sized communities that were smashed on Friday night.
Kentucky was especially hit hard, including Dawson Springs (the hometown of well-known outdoor writer Will Brantley), which was all but leveled, Mayfield, and Bowling Green (the home of frequent Outdoor Sportsman Group contributor Josh Honeycutt).
The string of twisters also struck the Reelfoot area, fatally injuring Gunn and his young son, and leaving 47-year-old family member Jaime Antonio Hall missing.
According to a variety of news reports, including one written by reporter Brandon Shields of the Jackson, Tenn., Sun newspaper, the group of duck hunters from Florida's capital city were staying at the Cypress Point Resort, arriving after a lengthy day of travel and anticipating a weekend of duck-hunting action on one of the most famous waterfowling hotspots in the South.
Prior to the severe weather hitting the region, Gunn, his son Grayson, and Hall reportedly turned in for bed early, a couple of hours prior to the tornadic storm’s arrival. When it hit, parts of the group—Floridians familiar with hurricanes, not deadly tornadoes in the dark of night—retreated to a nearby building to watch the heavy rain, lightning, and thunder roll through the area.
Instead, a killer tornado roared through and left behind destruction and death in its wake.
Steve, who reportedly worked for Engineered Cooling Services, a Tallahassee air conditioning firm, was a person who lived to help others according to Chris Turner, the general manager for the company’s office in the northern Florida city.
"The world lost a great person," Turner said to the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper.
"(He) always wanted to help ... If Steve was on his honeymoon and someone needed help, he would drop what he was doing."
As of the time of this writing, Hall, also of Tallahassee, remained missing.
"We still haven't located him or heard from him," said Hall's daughter, Ashleigh, in a weekend interview with the Jackson Sun newspaper.
On Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, Hall’s 23-year-old son Michael Gunn-Hall, who had arrived with others to help look for his father, echoed Ashleigh’s comments.
"We have people from all over trying to help," he told the Tallahassee Democrat on Monday afternoon. “We're looking everywhere."
According to the Democrat’s online story, Hall was a mortgage loan officer at Prime Meridian Bank, a member of the prayer and worship team at New Creation Church, and the kind of individual who was always volunteering, always helping, and always praying for others.
"He's an amazing guy," said Vaughn Wilson, a member at New Creation Church, in the Tallahassee newspaper story. "He just had a really great spirit for other people and would help them at any turn."
That story is tragically familiar all across the region where as many as 32 tornadoes swept through in a tornado outbreak more reminiscent of springtime than the days leading up to Dec. 25th. As the death toll continues to rise, the tally is the worst since the deadly twisters in Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and other portions of the South on April 27, 2011 and the Joplin, Mo. tornado only a few weeks later on May 22, 2011.
For now, the family of duck hunters lost in a tragic storm prepare to bury a father and his son while continuing to look for another loved one who remains missing.
An online GoFundMe fundraiser was set up by Sunday evening, and as of this writing, it had generated more than $46,800 for funeral expenses for the father and son victims.
"We are raising funds to help Blaine Gunn with the passing of her husband Steve and son Grayson," wrote the fundraiser's organizer, Tyler Lee. "Steve and Grayson arrived in Tiptonville, TN on Friday looking forward to a weekend of duck hunting on Lake Reelfoot only to have their lives taken by the tornados that ravaged the area that evening. These funds will go directly to Blaine to cover the expense of their passing. The world lost 2 true southern gentleman this weekend."
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee is requesting federal emergency assistance from President Joe Biden.
“Our emergency officials, first responders, and law enforcement brought hope where there was none in the aftermath of these storms,” said Gov. Lee in a news release. “Our effort now will be to bring as much relief as possible to these devastated communities.”
In nearby Kentucky, the damage and loss of life was even worse where Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said to news reporters on Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, that the death toll in his state stood at 74 people and that at least 109 individuals were still unaccounted for.
"We expect that this death toll will continue to grow," Beshear said to Fox News. "With this amount of damage and rubble, it may be a week or even more before we have a final count on the number of lost lives."
As the search for Hall continues, last Friday’s deadly tornado caps off an especially difficult year for the duck-hunting hotspot found at Tennessee’s Reelfoot Lake.
As readers of Game and Fish Magazine might remember, the year began last January with a horrifying tale of a bizarre and deadly shooting in a Reelfoot duck blind on Jan. 25, 2021.
That’s when authorities said that 70-year old Martin, Tennessee, resident David Vowell allegedly opened fire and killed 26-year old Zachary Grooms and 26-year old Chance Black, both of Greenfield, Tenn.
According to the incident’s lone survivor, Jeffery Crabtree, Vowell loaded his shotgun while still in his boat and ended up shooting the two victims. Crabtree then reportedly knocked Vowell in the head and threw his gun into the water before taking the shooting victims to shore.
Both men succumbed to their injuries and Vowell’s body was later recovered from the rain-swollen area around the lake.
As the deadly year at Reelfoot Lake continues to run towards its conclusion in a few weeks, stay tuned for updates on the search for Hall right here at Game and Fish Magazine.