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Family photo reveals a heartbreaking story in tornado’s aftermath

In this Dec. 10, 2021, photo provided by Sandra Hooker, from left, Avalinn Rackley, 7, Alanna Rackley, 3, and Annistyn Rackley, 9, pose for a picture in a bathroom in their home near Caruthersville, Missouri. Annistyn, a third-grader who loved swimming, dancing and cheerleading, was among dozens of people who died because of the severe storm on Friday, Dec. 10. A tornado hit her home and splintered it less than a week after the family had moved in, and, according to the relative who received the photo of the girl in the bathtub, it carried family members dozens of yards before dropping them in a muddy field. (Meghan Rackley/Courtesy of Sandra Hooker via AP)

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The Rackley family poses during a trip to Sedona, Ariz., in an undated family photo. At left is Annistyn, 9, who died when a Dec. 10 tornado destroyed the family’s Missouri home. – Summer Alexander / Courtesy Sandra Hooker via AP

Topeka, Kansas, correspondent John Hanna obtained a stunning family photo in the aftermath of tornadoes that tore through the South and Midwest. That image, combined with Hanna’s reporting and a video interview, tells the wrenching story of a young storm victim, 9-year-old Annistyn Rackley, who died when a tornado destroyed the family’s Missouri home. Even amid AP’s remarkable body of work on the storm, this story stood out.

Hanna had run across the name of Annistyn’s aunt in a routine member story about a vigil for storm victims. Through Facebook sleuthing he eventually found the aunt, Sandra Hooker, who said, “My heart is broken, but I will help you in any way I can.”

In an initial conversation with Hooker, who is close to the Rackley family, she mentioned receiving a photo by text shortly before a tornado blew the Rackleys’ home apart. The photo shows Annistyn and her sisters taking shelter in a bathtub as the storm approached; Annistyn is holding her favorite doll, MawMaw. Fifteen minutes later the home lay in ruins and Annistyn was dead.

Hooker wanted to honor Annistyn’s memory and secured the Rackley family’s permission for AP to use that photo and others. She also did an interview with Hanna by Zoom,one of several follow-up discussions they had.

Hanna’s moving one-man,all-formats coverage — his story,the photo of Annistyn and his interview with her aunt — was among AP’s top enterprise stories in the wake of the storm, with strong play across the U.S. and internationally.

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