maincurve UC Library MyUC iLearn Webmail Home
title Media Relations Home



UC Professor Lends a Helping Hand


Professor DeCecca was part of the search and rescue teams that scavenged the wreckage for victims and survivors in Joplin, MO.

Williamsburg, KY - University of the Cumberlands (UC) Professor and Chair of the Department of Criminal Justice Justin DeCecca has helped hundreds of people over his 14 year career as a law enforcement officer from accident victims, assault victims, theft victims and domestic violence victims.

But he has never seen the type of devastation and destruction which occurred from tornados earlier this year in Alabama and Missouri.

“I have never seen such damage and loss of life in one area” said DeCecca. “In seconds, peoples’ lives were changed, homes destroyed and lives were lost.”

In May, along with his wife, DeCecca and 30 members of the congregation at his church, Quest Community in Lexington, Ky., traveled to Alabama to assist in the recovery and relief work for victims devastated by the tornadoes.

“We were able to help residents try to rebuild and salvage what was left of their homes and belongings,” DeCecca commented. “We were also fortunate to help out at a relief center drop off area, where thousands of items were dropped off daily including bottled water, diapers, food and clothing for victims. It was like a giant supermarket of donated items.”

After returning from Alabama, Professor DeCecca commented about how truly impressed he was by the spirit and courage of the survivors and victims of the tornado. DeCecca said he was talking with a survivor whom had hidden in a bathroom with his family when the tornado destroyed his house. He said his 12 year old son was sucked out of his arms, flew up in the air above a telephone poll, and landed 20 feet from him. Amazingly the son survived along with the rest of the family and the man was convinced that he was one of the luckiest people alive for his family to walk away from this tornado unhurt.

“It was very emotional to listen to these victims who had lost almost everything they own, be so grateful to be alive and not wanting people to feel sorry for them, they just needed people to help them rebuild and restart their lives,” DeCecca said.

A week later, when tornadoes ravaged through Joplin Missouri, DeCecca made the decision to head to Joplin to search for survivors. This time however, he would head that way alone.

“I heard one of the victims on the radio speaking about the devastation that occurred and by midnight that night I was in route to Joplin,” he said. He basically jumped in his car, with no connections, help nor guidance and drove to Missouri to help. Justin’s wife contacted Quest Community Church and they donated some money for food and gas for the trip.

Justin was part of the search and rescue teams that scavenged the wreckage for victims and survivors.

“It looked like a nuclear bomb went off; there were sections that were completely destroyed and were littered with cattle carcass, something you never forget, especially the smell,” DeCecca said.

Justin slept in his car and one night was lucky to find an open door at the local university and slept on a couch in a hallway. “They did not have housing for volunteers unless you were with AmeriCorps, so I had to make do with what was available, I was uncomfortable, but I knew I still had it better compared to the thousands of victims who had lost everything.”

DeCecca said the main reason he went was to help, but also admitted other reasons of interest as well. “The University of the Cumberlands is dedicated to community service and requires that each student complete community service hours. As a professor and role model, I had to step up and show the students that we practice what we teach.”

DeCecca plans on using the stories from the victims and his experiences in his classes. He will be able to discuss and share stories and photos of his experiences first hand and what it was like to work in this type of natural disaster.

Actually, Justin was teaching an online criminal justice class while he was at these sites and was able to post pictures of the damage for his students and email them on a daily basis. The department plans on having about 80 criminal justice students as major’s this year. Criminal Justice is one of the largest growing majors on campus, and does not seem to be slowing down.

“What we teach at UC is not just learned from books or research articles. We teach our students what we have seen and what we have trained for and what we had to do to get the job done and help people.”

To learn more about DeCecca and the Criminal Justice program visit or follow them on Facebook at Criminal-Justice-Department-at-UC.