Annistyn Rackley was an outgoing and energetic 9-year-old who didn’t let a rare liver condition prevent her from the activities she loved: swimming, dancing and cheerleading, her great-aunt Sandra Hooker said.
The girl delighted in donning outfits and makeup for cheer competitions and would frequently do cartwheels and the splits in front of family members.
“I would just gasp because she could do the splits all the time, and she would just laugh,” Hooker recalled. “She loved dancing.”
Annistyn was among at least 92 people who were confirmed dead across multiple states after more than 40 tornadoes pummeled a wide area Dec. 10. The victims included grandmothers, veterans and in some cases, multiple members of a single family. On one street in Bowling Green, Kentucky, 12 people died — eight of them children. Seven of the 12 were members of one family. Their grief-stricken neighbors are surrounded by ruins that include countless children’s toys.
The sudden bereavement has left loved ones reeling and clinging to memories. Katie Fields said she doesn’t want her father, 60-year-old Carl Hogan, of Dawson Springs, Kentucky, remembered as “the guy who died in the tornado.” Hogan loved to fish and loved his green Chevrolet truck, she said, and he was a fan of the TV show “Yellowstone.” His four grandchildren “were his world,” she said, and Hogan was a “fantastic” father.
“He was religious but it was a quiet, private faith,” Fields said. “He was truly just a good man.”
Hogan was “incredibly devoted” to his wife of 41 years, and he was looking forward to getting her back home following a stay in a hospital and nursing home that began in February, Fields said.
Elsewhere in Dawson Springs, Jason Cummins has been combing through the debris of the home his mother Marsha Hall and her sister Carole Grisham shared, keeping anything still intact — a key, a doorknob — that might remind him of them.
Hall, 72, and Grisham, 80, were referred to simply as “the sisters” around Dawson Springs, friend Jenny Beshear Sewell said. They were often in each other’s company and had lived in the same home for years, according to Cummins.
“They really just took care of each other,” said Cummins, 43. “It was always the two of them. They were best friends.”
Cummins said he texted his aunt and mother “good morning” and told them he loved them every day. On the day of the storm, he added that they should “watch the weather.” He was tracking the storm on Facebook that night and told Hall to get Grisham and go to the hallway.
“She said, ‘I cleaned out the closet in case I need to get in there.’” Cummins recalled. “She said, ‘I love you.’ She texted each of my siblings and said she loved them.”
Cummins said he texted later but didn’t hear back. A tornado had wiped out the home.
Cummins said among the debris, he found his mom’s purse with cash she had taken out of the bank to hand out at Christmas.
“I don’t know how it’s going to feel the day when I don’t come up here and look for something,” he said. “That’s when I think it will hit me.”
Annistyn, her parents and her two younger sisters took shelter Friday night in a windowless bathroom in their new home west of Caruthersville, Missouri. To prove they’d gotten to the family’s “safe space,” the girls’ mom texted Hooker a photo of the three girls in and next to the bathtub — all of them smiling, Annistyn holding her favorite doll.
Fifteen minutes later, Hooker said, a tornado splintered the home, carrying the family members dozens of yards through the air into a field where first responders found them in mud. Annistyn died, and the others were injured.
Annistyn’s parents learned when she was 2 months old that she had a rare liver disorder in which bile ducts don’t develop properly, sometimes making it hard to fight off illness, according to Hooker. The two had become close over the past four years: Hooker offered the girl support during doctor’s visits and blood draws.
She called Annistyn a “special angel.”
Associated Press writer Jeffrey Collins contributed to this report.