A Missouri girl who saw a tornado rip apart her family home last week – killing her older sister, hospitalizing her mother and breaking her vertebrae – took her first steps on Thursday as she learns to walk again.
Avalinn Rackley, 7, aided by a walker and a neck brace, began a slow and steady stroll across her hospital room after a successful round of surgery on Wednesday, where family members cheered her on as they found hope amid their tragedy.
‘Good job! You’re doing so good,’ they are heard saying as they recorded the steps. ‘I love you so much.’
The resilient 7-year-old was smiling as Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital workers assisted her at the Memphis facility. When Avalinn appeared a bit strained from the exercise, a family members asked her, ‘What’s wrong, darling?’
To which the remarkable girl answered, ‘Nothing,’ as she continued walking.
Avalinn’s great-aunt, Sandra Hooker, 62, told DailyMail.com that Avalinn should be home by the weekend with her grandmother as family members pray for a miracle for her mother Meghan Rackley, 32, who suffered severe brain injury and is fighting for her life.
The plight of the Rackley family captured the nation’s attention when a photo of Avalinn and her sisters Annistyn, 9, and Alanna, 3, taking shelter in their bathroom went viral as more than 30 tornadoes rampaged through Kentucky, Missouri and three other states last week, killing at least 88 people.
Scroll down for video
Avalinn Rackley, 7, began taking her first step to learn how to walk on Thursday after suffering from a broken vertebrae when a tornado ripped apart her Missouri home last week, killing her older sister and critically injuring her mother
The remarkable girl has maintained a smile and given hope to her family after their tragedy
Avalinn, left, was with her older sister Annistyn, 9, holding a doll in the bathtub, and little sister Alanna, 3, taking shelter in their bathroom when one of more than 30 tornadoes destroyed their Caruthersville home. Annistyn was killed in the tornado
The entire Rackley family was flung from their home during the devastating storms. (Pictured left to right: father Trey holding Avalinn, Annistyn, and mother Meghan holding Alanna
The family home was among the hundreds leveled after a series of tornadoes struck five states last week
One of the tornadoes that hit their Caruthersville home flung the girls and their parents, Meghan and Trey, 37, into a field, killing Annistyn and severely wounding Avalinn and Meghan.
Trey and Alanna suffered less sever injuries and have been released from the hospital.
Meghan, who fell into a coma, was hospitalized in St. Louis for severe brain trauma, and while the family said she was able to move a bit on Thursday, they said they still need a miracle.
Hooker said that Avalinn has been doing well and that doctors have removed one of two drains in her back from Wednesday’s surgery.
In a Facebook post about the 7-year-old’s physical therapy session, grandmother Pamela Moore wrote, ‘This girl has been the bravest little girl. She has won the heart of everyone in this hospital.
‘She has been so strong. I just know that her big sister Anni is right with her. I can feel it.’
Avalinn kept a positive attitude and gave her families a thumbs up before undergoing back surgery on Wednesday
Avalinn began learning how to walk again after completing back surgery on Wednesday
Family members said the 7-year-old would be able to go home by the weekend with her grandmother
Avalinn’s recovery comes as good news to the family after the death of her sister, Annistyn, pictured
Lani, aged three, was discharged from the hospital on Sunday evening
Mother Meghan Rackley, 32, (left) suffered a brain injury, large cut and several broken bones. The family is asking the community to keep her in their prayers. Father Trey Rackley, 37 – who suffered cuts and bruises – and the youngest daughter, Alanna, 3, (right) have been released from the hospital
Grandfather Chuck Rackley said Meghan moved for a bit on Thursday and prayed for her recovery
Emergency responders located the family and took them to a nearby hospital where Avalinn told doctors: ‘I was flying around in the tornado and I prayed to Jesus to take care of me, and he spit me out – and the tornado spit me out into the mud.’
Hooker said after a prayer vigil Sunday, searchers in the field near the Rackleys’ house found the doll that Annistyn was holding in the photo.
Hooker said it was Annistyn’s favorite, and she called it Baby MawMaw.
‘They brought Baby MawMaw to me, and I’m cleaning her up so that [Avalinn] can have Baby MawMaw,’ she said.
The community continues to rally behind the family and has created a crowdfunding page to help cover funeral, medical and other expenses.
Loved ones say Annistyn, who since infancy had been battling a rare liver disorder in which bile ducts don’t develop properly, was always full of energy and delighted.
She would often don cute outfits for her cheerleading competitions, practice cartwheels and the splits, and teach herself new TikTok dances.
Hooker called her a ‘special angel.’
Hooker, pictured showing drawing by Annistyn, said she’s hopeful for Avalinn and Meghan’s recovery
Hooker found one of Annistyn’s favorite dolls, Baby MawMaw, in the wreckage of their home
A vigil was held for the Rackley family on Sunday night and volunteers helped salvage the family’s belongings
The Rackley girls (from left) Avalinn, Alanna and Annistyn posing for a family Christmas photo
A crowdfunding page has been established to help the Rackley family in their time of need
Tornadoes also roared through both the Missouri and Illinois sides of the St. Louis area, as well as the Memphis, Tennessee, area and parts of Arkansas and Illinois. A candle factory in Mayfield, Kentucky (pictured), and an Amazon facility in Edwardsville, Illinois, were hit
The storm left a trail of wreckage in its wake that stretched from Arkansas, where a nursing home was destroyed, to Illinois, where an Amazon distribution center was heavily damaged
‘I would just gasp because she could do the splits all the time, and she would just laugh,’ the aunt added. ‘She loved dancing.’
Although the younger daughters and Trey are recovering, Hooker has asked the community to pray for the family, especially Meghan.
‘Our family believes in a God of miracles and that is why we are here today,’ she told KAIT 8. ‘To ask God for a miracle and give us a miracle for Meghan.’
‘The loss, it is exponential. There are no words,’ echoed Mandi Alexander, a long-time friend of Meghan’s. ‘Annistyn was bubbly. She was the best kid. She was the strongest kid.’
The Rackley’s were just one of many families devastated by the storms. In Kentucky, where the tornadoes hit the hardest, the entire Brown family lost their lives.
The Brown family – four children, their parents and grandmother – were found dead after the storm left the tidy homes on the Moss Creek Avenue cul-de-sac reduced to mounds of lumber and rubble, with residents’ belongings spewed across the street.
Victoria Smith, the 64-year-old Brown family matriarch, was found dead in a field near the neighborhood.
Smith’s daughter, Rachael Brown, 36; Brown’s husband Steven, 35, and the couple’s youngest child, 4-year-old Nyles Brown, were found together near their family home, relative Cierra Bryant told WKYT.
The couple’s daughter Nariah Brown, 16, was found in a creek and their son Nolynn Brown, 10, on a neighbor’s property. On Thursday, police said they found the couple’s 13-year-old daughter, Nyssa Brown, about a quarter mile southeast of the family home.
‘There was nothing they could’ve held onto, nothing they could’ve tried to shelter themselves, everything is gone,’ Bryant said.
The Besic family, who lived two doors down from the Browns, also lost five people in Friday’s storm.
The house located between the two family homes was heavily damaged by the storms. The residents appeared to have survived the incident, however their conditions remain unknown.
‘It’s hard to believe that mother nature could be so cruel,’ rescuer Jeffery Bark, 36, told DailyMail.com. ‘I’ve seen stuff that I hadn’t seen since war times – like body parts and intestines, stuff you would expect to see in a war town but not in your home time, not in a peace time.’
Bark and his dog Chichi, 2, have been aiding in search and rescue of the community all week.
‘It’s heart-wrenching to see infants passed away,’ he added.
Rachael Brown, 36, and Steven Brown, 35, are pictured with three of their kids (from left: Nolynn, Rachel, Nyssa, Nariah and Steen). Rachel and Steven were found dead after a tornado ripped through their Bowling Green, Kentucky neighborhood. Their daughter Nariah, 16, and sons Nolynn, 10, and Nyles, 4, were also killed
A view of the destroyed Brown family home as seen on Thursday, Dec. 16
Officials confirmed Nyssa’s (left) death Thursday afternoon after she had been was missing since Saturday. She was found about a quarter mile southeast of the family home (right)
An aerial view of Bowling Green, Kentucky showing where the Besic (far left) and Brown (far right) family homes once stood
The above map shows where the Brown and Besic families’ homes were located in Bowling Green, as well as where officials found Nyssa Brown’s body
Two houses down from the Browns, the storm took the life of Alisa Besic, a mother of three, and two of her children, Elma Besic, 7, and Alma Besic, an infant. They were found behind their home with Alisa clutching the baby in her arms.
Alisa’s sister-in-law, Selveta Besic, told the Courier Journal the mother leaves behind a 2-year-old boy.
The large Besic family also lost Selmir Besic, 6, and Samantha Besic, who was not even one year old.
Each of the unnamed twin brothers, one of whom is married to Alisa, lost two children.
Selveta noted that her brothers and their younger 25-year-old sister, who is likely paralyzed, are among four Besic family members being treated for life-threatening injuries at hospitals in Nashville, Tennessee.
‘We were just shocked,’ Selveta said. ‘One minute you’re alive and just playing with them and then the next 15 minutes they are gone.’
Steven Brown is pictured with Victoria Smith, the 64-year-old matriarch of the Brown family. Victoria was also killed in the storm. Her body was found in a field near the neighborhood
All four of the Brown children were killed in the storm (Pictured from left: Nyssa, Nariah, Nolynn, and Nyles Brown)
Tornadoes also roared through both the Missouri and Illinois sides of the St. Louis area, as well as the Memphis, Tennessee, area and parts of Arkansas and Illinois. A candle factory in Mayfield, Kentucky, and an Amazon facility in Edwardsville, Illinois, were hit.
Six Amazon workers killed after Illinois tornado destroyed warehouse – including Navy vet who died trying to save colleagues
Six Amazon workers were killed after a tornado struck a warehouse in Illinois on Friday night.
Meanwhile, photos reviewed by DailyMail.com suggest a lavish party was thrown at Jeff Bezos’ Beverly Hills mansion this weekend in the aftermath of the tragedy.
Navy veteran Clayton Cope, 29, was among the dead after a series of tornadoes roared through the facility near St. Louis, ripping off its roof and causing 11-inch thick concrete walls longer than football fields to collapse on themselves.
His sister Rachel Cope said she’s angry that Amazon didn’t allow its workers to go to an emergency shelter after the first siren sounded.
‘I’d want people to know that he died saving the lives of people in that building because of Amazon’s negligence to take the tornado sirens seriously and choosing the productivity of their company over their employees,’ Cope told DailyMail.com.
‘My brother is a hero.’
Amazon cargo driver Austin J. McEwen, 26, was also killed while trying to shelter during the tornado.
Other Amazon workers identified as dead by the local coroner were Deandre ‘Shawn’ Morrow, 28, of St. Louis, Missouri; Kevin D. Dickey, 62, of Carlyle, Illinois; Etheria S. Hebb, 24, of St. Louis, Missouri; and Larry E. Virden, 46, of Collinsville, Illinois.
Meantime, several warehouse employees said they’re worried Amazon’s controversial cell phone ban, which was temporarily lifted during the pandemic, would jeopardize safety.
Their fears were amplified after a tornado killed the Edwardsville workers.
Blue collar workers said in the aftermath of the disaster that they’re worried reinforcing the cell phone ban would prohibit them from checking weather alerts or calling for help during emergencies.
‘After these deaths, there is no way in hell I am relying on Amazon to keep me safe,’ one person, who works at an Amazon facility in Illinois, told Bloomberg. ‘If they institute the no cell phone policy, I am resigning.’
Another worker said she wasn’t willing to lock away her cell phone while on the clock either.
‘I don’t trust them with my safety to be quite frank,’ she told the outlet. ‘If there’s severe weather on the way, I think I should be able to make my own decision about safety.’
Moments before he died, Cope was on the phone with his dad, telling him he needed to go warn his colleagues that were returning to the warehouse to get shelter, his sister said.
‘And that’s when the building collapsed,’ she said.
His sister expressed her fury with Amazon on a public Facebook post as well, where she demanded answers for the tragedy.
‘Everyone knows that all Amazon cares about is productivity,’ she said. ‘My brother never would have died if this company actually gave 2 sh*** about their employees and got them to safety after the storm started to get bad and took it seriously.
‘This never would have happened if they cared about lives over productivity and you all know that.’
In Mayfield, where tornadoes leveled and destroyed homes on nearly every block, a pregnant mother lost her baby after being picked up by the tornado.
‘We had a family of five. They were in their house and it was leveled,’ Bobby Waldridge, of Yahweh Baptist Church, told WLWT.
He said the woman and her four young sons were found in a field behind the house. Her husband was buried in rubble.
All survived but are facing serious injuries.
‘I’ve seen a lot of things in my life from policing to ministry but this is the worst absolutely the worst,’ Waldridge said.
He added: ‘The mother, she was pregnant also and she lost the child.’
Through all this tragedy, there is a strong sense of community. Strangers are offering to lend a hand and all are vowing to be there for their neighbors as they learn they’ve lost more than just their homes.
‘A lot of families are not as fortunate as you and I right now being here and just an immense lost of loved ones here,’ Waldridge said.
Another Mayfield resident shared how she beat death by crawling through a hole to escape her destroyed home and was then reunited with her lost dog.
Deanna Badillo and her unnamed friend were in the hallway of her North 6 Street home when the twister ravaged through the house, trapping them.
In what she called an ‘out of body experience,’ the pair crawled through a hole and out of the debris.
‘My friend and I both said we’ve cheated death. I think it’s because of God’s grace and I’m not done on this planet,’ Badillo told WTHR.
‘I didn’t see anything… but what I felt I can’t explain that to you. I can’t explain what it feels like to stand here and tell you what I went through.’
She also shared how she feared one of her dogs had been killed in the storm, only to later find out that a neighbor had found the pup and kept her warm and fed until he could locate the owner.
‘It’s the little things that matter,’ Badillo said. ‘That little dog every bit of her matters.’
She claims finding her dog was a sliver of good news amongst an awful tragedy.
Although some impacted by the storms, like Badillo, are sharing stories of rescue and hope, many families are mourning the loss of loved ones.
One Kentucky man is holding on to the last communication he had with his mother before the storms rolled through her Dawson Springs neighborhood on Friday night.
Billy West, of Madisonville, received a text from his mother, Marcia Hall, at 10.12pm reading: ‘I Love You’.
Tornadoes ripped through Hall’s School Street home approximately 30 minutes later, WFIE reported. She was sheltering with her sister, Carol Grisham.
West rushed to his mother’s community after the storm to find her house completely destroyed.
Authorities located Hall and Grisham the next morning.
‘We found them Saturday morning probably 75-100 feet away from the house together,’ said West, noting that the only part of the house remaining was the foundation.
He also said a car now sits where the kitchen once stood.
‘I think sometimes, I think, mom, if y’all had just got in the car versus the house…’ he said. ‘She may have been here, but God only knows.’
Hall sent the same message to her other two children, according to CNN.
Jason Cummins, one of Hall’s sons, said he tried to contact his mom and aunt after the storm but couldn’t get ahold of them.
‘I just texted them afterwards asking if they were all right,’ he said. ‘I didn’t hear anything back. The text didn’t go through.’
Worried, he got in his car around 2.30am Saturday and drove 70 miles to Dawson Springs in hopes of finding them.
‘I just got here, and I just hollered,’ he recalled. ‘I just hollered for them.’
After his search proved unsuccessful, he returned to the area the next morning during which time he and his relatives located the women.
Cummins said his mom and aunt were loved by their community.
‘Everybody thought the world of them,’ he told the news outlet.
‘They were the sweetest, nicest people who were always thinking about everyone else before themselves.’
‘My children loved them,’ echoed neighbor Breeana Glisson. ‘We talked to them every day.’
The sisters will be memorialized together at an area funeral home where they used to volunteer their time and help others mourn.
On Monday, Kentucky parents revealed their two-year-old baby girl had died two days after they tried in vain to protect her and her siblings from a deadly tornado that ripped through Kentucky by hiding in the bathroom.
Oaklynn Koon suffered a stroke, a swollen head and injuries to her neck when the twister hit. Her parents had strapped her into her car seat in the bathroom, put her brothers in the bathtub and covered themselves in pillows but were thrown from the Dawson Springs home and onto the other side of their neighbor’s house.
Billy West, of Madisonville, tells reporters how he received a text from his mother reading ‘I love you’ approximately 30 minutes before tornados ripped apart her Dawson Springs home Friday night. His mother and aunt were found dead the next morning
Carole Grisham (left) and Marsha Hall (right) were found together Saturday morning about 75-100 feet away from the house. Their children and neighbors say they were pillars in the community and will be greatly missed
‘At least I know who will be watching over you up there for me. My dad. God this doesn’t seem real,’ parents Doug and Jackie Koon shared on Facebook Monday, announcing her passing.
The Koons had huddled together in the bathroom with their two sons laying in the bathtub with pillows over them, and Oaklynn strapped into her car seat – figuring that would give her the most protection.
‘Nothing is… scarier than knowing a tornado is heading your way and hearing your kids freaking out, and thinking we are going to die,’ Jackie wrote on Facebook following the ordeal.
‘It’s the most traumatic thing I’ve ever been through,’ he told MSNBC on Sunday as his daughter battled for her life. ‘I felt like I was helpless in protecting my kids against it.’
When the tornado finally hit her mother’s house in Dawson Springs, Jackie said: ‘We all went flying and ended up on the other side of our neighbor’s house.’
As the storm subsided, Doug told MSNBC he looked up from where he landed and saw his four-year-old son standing there and screaming ‘daddy.’ The boy had a cut on his head, Doug said, and it was bleeding.
Two-month-old Oaklynn Koon (left) died Monday morning after spending two days in the hospital battling injuries sustained during the tornado. Her father, Doug Koon, confirmed her passing on Facebook (right)
Doug and Jackie Koon’s 4-year-old son also suffered injuries during the tornado and required a CT scan
The Koon family is mourning the loss of two-month-old Oaklynn
He said he tried to stop the bleeding as he searched for his other family members through the rubble, guided by screaming and moaning. He tried to stop everyone’s bleeding and get them to safety before his mother-in-law’s house was completely destroyed, and then rushed his family to the hospital.
Doug said his four-year-old son had to have a CT scan to ensure the brain bleed does not get worse, and overnight Oaklynn’s, condition worsened.
Jackie posted on Facebook on Sunday that the doctors at the local hospital ran some tests on Oaklynn and ‘they think she has injured her neck veins, which may have caused her to have a stroke.’
Doug said ‘machines were keeping her alive’ and that her ‘head swelled really bad’. She was being incubated and transferred to another hospital.
She passed away on Monday morning and is believed to be Kentucky’s youngest storm victim.
The aerial photo above, taken on Dec. 13, shows the destruction left behind by Friday’s storm in Dawson Springs, Kentucky, the town where the Koon family lived
The storm left a trail of wreckage in its wake that stretched from Arkansas, where a nursing home was destroyed, to Illinois, where an Amazon distribution center was heavily damaged (Pictured: Mayfield, Kentucky on Dec. 14)
In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear said the death toll could grow as authorities continued to work around debris that slowed recovery efforts.
Nearly 450 National Guard members have been mobilized in the state, and 95 of them are searching for those presumed dead.
Across the state, about 26,000 homes and businesses were without electricity, according to poweroutage.us, including nearly all of those in Mayfield.
More than 10,000 homes and businesses had no water as of Monday, and another 17,000 are under boil-water advisories, Kentucky Emergency Management Director Michael Dossett told reporters.
The tornados blew residents’ personal belongings up to 130 miles away, with wind speeds of up to 40 mph
Katie Posten, of New Albany, Indiana, found a family photo on her windshield and was able to locate the Kentucky family it belonged to, 130 miles away in Dawson Springs, Kentucky, through a public appeal on Facebook
Chris Kramer posted that he found a Veterans of Foreign Wars card (left) circa 1993 belonging to a Marion Tolbert, that originated 100 miles away at Matthew Tolbert’s grandfather’s house in Benton. A Polaroid picture (right) of Leigh Ann Carner Morris’ father with his dog was found in Brandenberg, Kentucky, 110 miles away from where it originated in Princeton, Kentucky
Many residents’ personal belongings were blown up to 130 miles away, and now people are reuniting devastated families who lost everything with pieces of their lives that turned up in unusual places.
Midwesterners have taken to social media to locate the owners of pictures, Bibles, baby quilts, Christmas ornaments and other keepsakes after deadly tornadoes swept across six states this weekend.
A Facebook group, Quad State Tornado Found Items, is flooded with posts detailing items – and even pets – that people have found. In many cases, the owners lived 100 miles away from where their belongings ended up.
A black and white photo of a woman in a striped sundress and headscarf holding a little boy on her lap traveled almost 130 miles in winds that reached up to 140 miles per hour in the storm.