Putnam County, Tennessee is picking up the pieces this week after a deadly tornado ravaged through on March 3rd, killing 24 people.
Among them was 4-year-old Hattie Collins, who died in the arms of her father, Matt Collins.
The heartbroken dad took to Facebook over the weekend with an emotional post about his daughter and the heartbreaking events of the night he lost her.
“Hattie loves to be held,” he starts his post.
Hattie loves to be held.
Ever since she was born, Hattie has loved being held. In 4.5 years, she has slept with Macy…
Matt says in her four-and-a-half years on earth, Hattie has slept with him and his wife, Macy, almost every night.
“She wants to feel you,” he says of his daughter’s love for being close.
“Early on Tuesday morning March 3, Hattie had wound up in our bed once again. She was asleep between Macy and I when Macy’s phone went off alerting us of a tornado warning in Putnam County.”
In an instant, they grabbed Hattie from between them and their other daughter Lainey, from her crib, and ran to take shelter.
“Macy grabbed Lainey, I had Hattie, and we hit the floor,” he wrote. “The sound around us was unlike anything I have ever heard. Deafening silence. As soon as we hit the ground with the girls, the tornado hit. Everything was collapsing and going up around us. I was yelling as loud as I could. I don’t remember what I said or even if what I said were words at all, but my yells were pleads for my girls to hang on.
Matt says they believe his family was “relocated by the storm” to somewhere in their front yard.
“We were in the dirt, in the crawl space, but together.”
Matt says after that moment, both he and his wife “blacked out” and have no memories until they woke up across the street at a home that was still standing.
“The rest of this story is filled with God’s people, many at Collegeside [Church of Christ], who came to our aid.”
Matt says they were rescued by their neighbors, Kory and Lauren Farmer, who also lost their home in the tornado.
“Kory could hear my screams. He had a light and was able to locate the four of us. Macy was holding Lainey. I was holding Hattie. We had never let go.”
Seeing that all four of them were injured, Kory took the girls from Matt and Macy’s arms.
Matt says some other neighbors, Luke and Amy Carty had been able to escape and get to Luke’s Truck. They had with them another neighbor, Jill Mynatt and her family.
“Kory handed Hattie to Jill and Lainey to Amy,” Matt says. “My girls never touched the ground.”
The group was hoping to make it to a local church but was unable to. Instead they got to another neighbor’s house, where some of the truck unloaded and an ambulance was able to get through.
“Luke was holding Hattie,” Matt says. “She had already passed. Luke held her though. Hattie loves to be held.”
Hattie was one of five young children who died in last week’s tornado, which killed 24 people total, and destroyed more than 500 homes and businesses in Putnam County.
Matt says that while his girls were being held and cared for at the home of Amy Jennings, he and Macy were being taken care of back at their location. Several neighbors even broke down a door to make a stretcher for his wife, and eventually, they both made it to the hospital separately, thanks to incredible neighbors and strangers.
“Every interaction we had that night was with God’s people,” he wrote. “The church saved our life.”
Matt says there are plenty more names and faces that helped that he does not remember. But his gratitude overflows.
“We are living the the tension of devastation and love. Words do not do justice for how we feel for Hattie. The pain is unbearable at times, and present all the time. We have also been overwhelmed with love and support from all over,” he wrote. “We thank you for your prayers — we have seen God this week in the lives of so many. God worked through his people Tuesday morning — Kory, Lauren, Luke, Amy, Jill and others — and we were recipients of their love.”
Matt closed out his heart-wrenching post by recalling the incredible events that unfolded on Monday night, before the tornado hit.
“Monday night, after they finished reading, Hattie looked up at Macy as she often does after story time. Hattie would rather talk than sleep,” he wrote. “She told her, ‘Mommy, I can see Jesus and he is wearing all white.’
“Hattie could see more clearly than the rest of us,” he continues. “Before we knew Jesus was going to hold her that night, she did. We do not believe the Lord took our girl from us. We believe he is holding our girl for us. And Hattie loves to be held.”
We are praying hard for this family, and everyone else whose lives were touched by this devastating tornado.