As storms raged across the country, Trey and Meghan Rackley chose a windowless bathroom in their Missouri house as a safe shelter. To inform that they were all in a “safe space” Meghan Rackley, the victim’s mother, took a photo of her three daughters and sent it to Sandra Hooker, the child’s great aunt.
In the picture, all of them were smiling with 9-year-old Annistyn holding her favorite doll.
Fifteen minutes later, the tornado hit the Rackleys’ home, carrying the family members dozens of yards through the air, and finally dumping them in a muddy field.
The other family members were injured after the disaster, but the tornado had taken the life of Annistyn, a third-grader who loved dancing, cheerleading, and swimming.
“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,” Annistyn’s baby sister Avalinn, 7, recalled. The child suffered a broken vertebra in her back.
Meghan Rackley, 32, is suffering from shattered bones, a brain injury, and a large cut, while Trey Rackley, 37, the child’s father, and his youngest daughter, Alanna, 3, have been released from the hospital after suffering cuts, bruises, and shock, Hooker said.
Annistyn Rackley was born with rare liver disease and underwent major surgery at just two months.
“Anni was a miracle,” the heartbroken aunt said. “She was born with biliary atresia. Eighty percent of the children with this disease have to have a liver transplant by the time they are 18. And so here she is at 9, living a full life. And she didn’t act like she was disabled or handicapped in any way. Her mom and her dad encouraged her and supported her to live life to the full.”
“And she did,” Hooker told PEOPLE, “right up till the tornado killed her. So God gave us a miracle with Anni.”
Annistyn enjoyed putting on clothes and makeup for her cheer competitions and demonstrating her cartwheels and splits, Hooker recalled.
“I would just gasp because she could do the splits all the time, and she would just laugh,” Hooker said. “She loved dancing.”
On Sunday, search and rescue workers searching a field near the family’s home discovered Annistyn’s favorite doll—the one she was holding in the photo.
“I know she’s in heaven,” Hooker said.