With Fat Tuesday just five days away, Kevin Ealy was feeling homesick. Any other year, the Hillcrest High School senior would have been in the middle of the Mardi Gras marching season, playing his saxophone on the streets of New Orleans as part of the Marching 100 show band.

But this year, he found himself stuck in Texas, trying to understand why Dallas’ spring break didn’t coincide with Mardi Gras.

“I’d probably be marching in a parade right now,” he lamented.

Kevin and his brother, Kaleb, 14, were two of the first transplanted New Orleanians to enroll at Hillcrest High School after fleeing the city ahead of Katrina’s devastating landfall. Freshman Rebecca Mullen and her sister, senior Amanda Mullen, started at HHS around the same time. The four students are virtually the last Katrina evacuees left at the school.

The Ealys have decided to stay in Dallas, and the Mullens are going back to New Orleans at the end of the school year. Both families have endured the emotional distress of an emergency evacuation, the loss of loved ones and the continuing drama of life after Katrina.


Kevin has settled into life in Dallas as well as can be expected with few possessions and little contact with his friends.

“I packed for three days for real,” says Kevin. “All my friends are spread out around the country.”

His dad, Kevin Ealy Sr., stayed behind with their Siberian husky, Smokey, to watch the house. He fully expected another false alarm like so many hurricanes before. When he woke up one morning and stepped into rapidly rising water, he found himself running for high ground, grabbing food and valuables on his way to the second floor. He and Smokey slept on the roof for three nights until rescuers flying by in a helicopter finally spotted them. Unfortunately, he was told there wasn’t enough room in the helicopter for the dog, but that they would come back for him. That was the last time anyone in the Ealy family saw Smokey.

“At first we thought we found him on a website for people looking for their dogs after Katrina. But we were still trying to find him up until last week,” Kevin Jr. says, noting that, at the very least, Smokey had one very essential survival skill. “He used to go swimming in the canal. I think he probably just went swimming.”

Sadly, the loss of the family pet has turned out to be the least of the Ealy’s worries. Two weeks after arriving in Dallas, Kevin Sr. was diagnosed with colon cancer and has undergone two surgeries and spent more than three months in the hospital since the diagnosis. He’s expected to come home this week, at which time he’ll begin chemotherapy.

As a result, Kevin has had to step up and to be the man of the house during his dad’s absence. His response to that challenge has made his mother proud.

“He has matured very fast,” she says. “I didn’t have to get behind him to tell him what’s he had to do. He’s excelled.”


Rebecca says her life in St. Bernard Parish just southeast of New Orleans had reached a perfect equilibrium.

“My dad had just moved back to his old job closer to our house. I was at a new school, and for the first time I was going to the same school as my best friend, Paige. Everything was perfect.”

She says her family was going to stay and wait out the storm until they heard Katrina had developed into a category 5 hurricane. Her aunt from Dallas happened to be visiting Rebecca’s grandmother, who had recently been diagnosed with lung cancer. As Katrina approached, the aunt’s flight was canceled, and so the Mullen family decided to evacuate to Dallas with her.

When they visited Rebecca’s grandmother, they were told that because she was on an oxygen machine and the hospital would not be evacuated, she could stay there on the third floor of Lindy Boggs Hospital in New Orleans. Once in Dallas, they soon found out what she was missing. Nobody could tell the Mullens if she had been been evacuated or what her condition was.

Finally, Rebecca’s mom got a call from the St. Gabriel morgue saying there was a body there with the last name of Mullen. The cause of death was listed as “undermined.” The family still doesn’t know when or where she died or the cause of death.

“It’s so hard,” Rebecca admits. “When I talk to my friends from New Orleans, we can’t talk about it or I will cry.”


Both Kevin and Rebecca say about the only good thing to come out of their relocation to Dallas has been the outpouring of support and love they have received from their new classmates and Preston Hollow neighbors.

“When I went to the senior luau, everyone was coming up to me and talking to me,” Kevin recalls. “They all knew my name. I felt like I was famous.”

Rebecca says she has really bonded with her new friends at Hillcrest in the short time she’s been here.

“It feels like I’ve known them all my life.”

Still, when Kevin and Rebecca talk about New Orleans, they do so with a tinge of sadness and longing in their voices.

“The music, the food, Louisiana is just fun,” Rebecca says.