CHEYENNE – Before Monday’s storm hit, Vickie Sutton hadn’t yet picked out a name for her three-day-old colt.

Now, the colt’s name is Twister.

Sutton’s 9-year-old grandson, Brady Sutton, who was home with her when a tornado came through the area, thought of it.

“We hadn’t named her yet, we were still back and forth on her name, and he decided Twister was a good name, so I think it’s going to stick,” Sutton said.

The tornado damaged several small buildings on Sutton’s property in Carpenter and decimated her barn.

“I don’t know how it happened, it must have danced around here for a while,” she said. “There was no clear path.”

Sutton said she felt sick when she came out from hiding with Brady in his bedroom and saw what happened to the barn – because that’s where she corralled her 30 female alpacas when the storm first formed and there was talk of hail.

“I shuttled them all into the barn, walked them in, because they’ll just stand out there in it, thinking that was going to be safe,” she said.

“I was physically ill walking down there … it just made me sick.”

The alpacas managed to huddle in a corner of the barn, and not a single one was injured despite the roof caving in. Sutton said the barn’s 4-foot concrete foundation probably helped shelter them.

“That is the most amazing story of all,” she said.

“I almost didn’t even want to look (inside the barn). I would have felt worse knowing that I was the one that locked them in there thinking I was doing a good thing,” Sutton said. “And it turned out it was, but for about 15 minutes I was pretty sure I did a stupid thing.”

Brady said he thought at least one alpaca had died.

“It looked bad, huh?” Sutton said.

“When I saw the front I was like, ‘Oh, it’s not too bad,’” Brady said. “When I went slightly to the side, I just saw everything else just collapsed.”

At one point, Brady blurted out, “And guess what? Four houses were hit. That’s surprising out here because out here all the houses are spreaded (sic) apart.”

“He has been wound up all week,” Sutton said.

Brady also was excited to point out a horse and a colt were in the barn, too, and survived.

In fact, all of the family’s animals were spared.

“Some of my male alpacas were down here, and two heifers … they weren’t hurt either,” Sutton said, adding that she doesn’t think she’s missing any of her 80-some chickens, either.

“I found one dead sparrow out here cleaning up and that’s the only thing,” she said.

“We got two dumb barn cats and we found both of those, and they live up in that loft that’s demolished.”

The dogs saved themselves, as well.

“During this whole thing, the dogs got out of the kennel and had come up to the door – still not sure how they did that,” Sutton said. “So I knew the dogs were fine.”

The tornado managed to avoid striking the house, which Sutton said is built like a tank.

“The old man that built this house, I thought he was insane at first, but it’s a tank,” she said.

“It’s a weird little house, but it’s solid.”

As tends to be the case with tornadoes, the damage done to the property appears random and, in some cases, unexplainable – a missing door here; a missing roof there; certain items left untouched.

“In front of the shop, we’ve got a wood burning stove in there, and we have one of those big metal water tanks plum full of firewood – it was heavy – sitting beside the door, and then my daughter had one of those little one-gallon plastic Shop-Vacs there,” Sutton said.

“It picked up that heavy firewood in that trough, hauled it off – I don’t even know what happened to the wood; I found the trough – but that Shop Vac was still sitting there right beside where it was. Figure that one out.”

And glass jars lined up along a wall of the barn are still standing as they were before the storm, even though the wall behind them is titled outward.

Sutton pointed out a large trash bin Laramie County workers dropped off that morning to help the family remove debris caused by the tornado.

“They said they’d cover all the charges,” she said. “They said they’d leave it here for two weeks, and they said they’d come and dump it in between if we needed to, so that’s going to help a bunch.”

The county also picked up tree limbs that were scattered in what’s now a pasture for the female alpacas, Sutton said.

Sutton said the family moved to the property in September, in part to have more acreage for the animals, and had been working to clean it up.

“When we bought the place it was (from) an old farmer that didn’t throw stuff away, so we’ve been gathering up stuff and piling stuff and clearing it out, and now we’re back at it,” she said.

Sutton, who recorded video of the tornado before running for cover, described the experience as spooky and eerie, but said she wasn’t ever really afraid.

“I had been watching the clouds all afternoon, I like to do it, I’m fascinated with it, and I was standing at the front door just watching it and pretty soon I seen that it was starting to rotate up there and I videoed the whole thing until it got up to the wheat field here,” she said.

“Even when I took off and hid with (Brady), I didn’t believe it was going to hit us because it went up and down so many times. After it hit the wheat field, it stayed solid, but I still in the back of my head (thought), ‘Eh, it’s going to go back up or it’s going to dart off,’ I really did.”

The family hadn’t insured any of the out-buildings on the property yet – they wanted to fix them up, first – but does plan to rebuild.

“We’re going to take (the barn) all apart and salvage all the good wood,” Sutton said.

“It was like a 100-year-old barn and I just loved it. My favorite thing about this place was that barn.”

To help raise funds for a new barn before winter, Sutton’s son-in-law, Evan Maurer, set up a GoFundMe account to collect online donations. So far, 12 people – some fellow alpaca farmers who left messages – have donated nearly $1,500 toward the family’s $60,000 goal.

“From one alpaca family to another I wish you the best and speedy rebuilding!” one donor commented.

Sutton said it took a while for reality to set in after the tornado passed.

“It didn’t really hit me ‘til a few hours later,” she said, explaining that after she surveyed the damage and found out all of her animals were safe, “the relief set in, and then I bawled.”

“I was cool until everything was OK,” she said.

“It was a crazy day.”

Sarah Zoellick is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle's criminal justice reporter. She can be reached at szoellick@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3122. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahzoellick.

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