HCHS mourns loss of beloved custodian, Fundraiser established for family

The Holmes County School District is mourning the loss of beloved custodian Karen Watson after she and her husband, John Watson, passed away in the wake of a tornado that destroyed their Washington County home.

Watson, who worked at Bonifay K-8 before transferring to HCHS, was known for her kindness, hard-working nature, and quick wit. “The student, faculty and staff are all saddened by the tragic loss of Karen Watson and her husband John,” said HCSO Assistant Principal Mandi Boyd. “Both Bonifay K-8, where she worked for many years and Holmes County High not only valued her contributions to her outstanding upkeep of the school but also the overall positive impact she had on all of us. Karen took an active interest in our lives and those of our students. She went out of her way to create relationships with us.”

“We all loved her cheeky ways of keeping us all in line,” added Boyd. 

“She was not just our co-worker, but our good friend as well. On a personal note, she was a dear friend who made me a better person and always made my day brighter. Her smile and presence will be deeply missed.”

Meteorologists with National Weather Service reports the tornado had winds of 150 mph and a 200–yard wide funnel that spanned about 12.15 miles across Washington and Jackson counties on Thursday. The tornado was determined to be an EF-3, a strength the NWS says is rare for Florida.

According to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the tornado was the only EF-3 to hit the county from January 1950 to December 31, 2021, the most recent records available.

“It was bad,” said Washington County Public Safety Director Lynn Abel. “This one hit us hard.” A total of 16 structures were damaged, with about ten homes being “completely destroyed.”

The tornado began around 4:09 a.m. near Roland Road and Ovid Land in Washington County, where it snapped tree trunks as it moved northeastward, crossing Orange Hill Road before continuing to Gilberts Mill Road, where the Watsons’ residence was located. 

The funnel lifted around 4:24 a.m. just south of Interstate 10 near Standland Road in Jackson County.

A Go Fund Me account has been set up to help the couple’s two sons rebuild the site, which also was home to several horses and other animals.

As of Tuesday, 44 people had raised $16,740 of the page’s $20,000 goal. To donate to the fundraiser, click here.