A smiling 9-year-old was photographed clutching her favorite doll while sheltering in a bathroom with her two sisters — just minutes before she died in a tornado that ripped her Missouri home to shreds last week.
The “safe space” Annistyn Rackley’s parents had chosen — a windowless bathroom in their southeast Missouri home — was torn apart when the monster twister ripped through the area 15 minutes later, killing the child and injuring her two sisters and parents.
“They were sucked up into the tornado,” said Sandra Hooker, the child’s great aunt, who received the snap in a text Friday evening.
“Their house is splintered … there’s debris strewn forever out in the field.”
Annistyn, a third-grader who loved dancing, cheerleading and swimming, is one of dozens killed in the series of tornadoes that barreled through Missouri, Illinois, Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas.
When the tornado struck the Rackley’s home in a section of the state known as the Bootheel region, the family was sucked out of the house and dumped yards away in a muddy field where first responders later found them.
“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, told doctors and nurses at a hospital in Memphis.
The child suffered a broken vertebrae in her back and was slated to undergo surgery Wednesday, while her mother, Meghan Rackley, 32, is recovering from broken bones, a brain injury and a large cut, Hooker said.
The child’s father, Trey Rackley, 37, and her youngest sister, Alanna, 3, have since been released from the hospital after suffering cuts, bruises and shock, the aunt said.
The heartbroken aunt called Annistyn a “special angel” and said the child was known for her exuberant, energetic personality that still managed to shine despite a rare liver condition she’d been diagnosed with that required frequent doctor’s visits.
She recalled how Annistyn loved putting on outfits and makeup ahead of her cheer competitions and showing off her cartwheels and splits.
“I would just gasp because she could do the splits all the time, and she would just laugh,” Hooker said. “She loved dancing.”
She said the family had just moved from nearby Caruthersville on Dec. 4 and hadn’t even finished unpacking by the time the storms hit.
On Sunday, search and rescue workers combing through the field near the family’s home found the doll that Annistyn was holding in the photo — a prized possession she called Baby MawMaw.
“They brought Baby MawMaw to me, and I’m cleaning her up so that Ava can have Baby MawMaw,” Hooker said.
With Post wires