Robert Daniel, a Kentucky deputy and a father of seven, was one of eight victims of a devastating series of tornadoes in Mayfield that wiped out a 24/7 candle factory hard at work for the Christmas season.
The 47-year-old Graves County Jail supervisor died over the weekend as he saved inmates from Kentucky tornado, which leveled the factory full of roughly 100 people inside. Robert Daniel reportedly just began a new role at the jailhouse, rehabilitating seven inmates in a work-release program at the since-destroyed Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory.
Though the Kentucky deputy was one of eight victims who tragically died in the candle factory, the state has reported at least 74 dead and over 100 still unaccounted for following the deadly tornadoes on Friday. Communities in Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi and Illinois were also devastated by the terrifying storms.
According to The Washington Post, as the tornado came down on the Mayfield candle factory, Kentucky deputy Robert Daniel acted quickly and saved inmates from being crushed.
“The last thing he did was making sure [the inmates] were taken care of, even at his own peril,” said Graves County Jailer George Workman, describing him as a hero.
He said that Daniel was dismayed during the pandemic from being able to help rehabilitate inmates in his work-release program, and was excited to get started before the fateful tornado struck.
The factory was described as a “war zone,” and “completely unrecognizable.” According to reporters, it was a fixture in the town for over 20 years. Livestream video of the wreck was littered with downed power lines, twisted sheet metal, wrecked vehicles, and massive collapsed factory walls.
After seeing news of the collapse, Robert Daniel’s friends Jason Blair and A.J. Ferguson rushed to the scene to find Daniel crushed by a big piece of wall. Another unnamed inmate below him was also being crushed but still alive. Jason Blair said that he believed Daniel’s large frame was “the only thing that really saved that other guy.”
“He died saving lives and for that, he deserves all the honor,” Daniel’s daughter Jenna told CBS News. “He deserves everything. He did his job and he did it well because all of his inmates survived.”
One of the factory survivors, Kyanna Parsons Perez, told reporters that she saw people from Graves County Jail working to help people escape, and was marveled at their bravery.
“Some of those prisoners were working their tails off to get us out,” she told TODAY. “They could have used that moment to try to run away or anything. They did not. They were there. They were helping us.”
According to Robert Daniel’s family, it was only his fourth night supervising his inmates. He was looking forward to the work-release program, which he saw as a way to help inmates earn money and feel like they had a way to a job after being released from prison.
“He was a very loving dad,” said Trey Daniel, 28, one of Robert’s seven children. The family gathered on Monday at Brown’s Funeral Home in Mayfield to put their father to rest. They were reportedly very emotional when speaking to the press, but shared stories of Robert Daniel’s warmth and love for his family.
His daughter, Jenna Daniel, 24, shared that he spoiled all of his grandchildren, who were the world to him. “Don’t let them ask for money or he’ll pull out all the $1s he’s got,” she said.
Tyce Daniel, his youngest son, 22, revealed that he went to almost every one of his football games, where he plays tight end for Southern Illinois University.
“He was there unless he had to work or had a grandkid’s birthday,” Tyce said. “I would lose to the grandkids.”
According to the Mayfield sheriff’s department, the town plans to posthumously honor Robert Daniel with the Lifesaving Award.