Father of 4-year-old killed in Putnam County tornado shares heartbreaking account


(CNN) — Four-year-old Hattie Collins died last week when a powerful tornado touched down in Tennessee.

She was one of five children younger than 13 who died in Putnam County. Her father, Matt Collins, is now sharing on Facebook the heartbreaking details of the night he lost his daughter.

“Hattie loves to be held,” his post begins.

Like many young children, Hattie would wind up sleeping in her parents’ bed. That night was just like the others, he said. Hattie was asleep between him and his wife, Macy, and then the tornado warning alerts started sounding from the phone.

“We immediately grabbed Hattie out of the bed and begin running as fast as possible towards Lainey’s room to grab her out of the crib,” he said. Lainey is the couple’s younger daughter.

“Macy grabbed Lainey, I had Hattie, and we hit the floor. The sound around us was unlike anything I have ever heard. Deafening silence.”

Collins said the tornado hit their house as soon as they hit the floor and everything was collapsing around them. In total, 24 people were killed across four counties after storms moved through the state.

“The four of us were relocated by the storm to somewhere around our front porch, we think. We were in the dirt, in the crawl space, but together.”

He says the next thing he remembers is waking up across the street at the neighbors’ house. He said his neighbors filled them in on what happened, saying they found the family still holding on to each other.

“Macy was holding Lainey. I was holding Hattie. We had never let go.”

All four of them were injured. Collins praises the neighbors who jumped into action to help them. He says they took the girls from their arms and continued to hold them. One of the neighbors was able to get their vehicle free and drove the girls to get help as they waited on the ambulance.

Hattie didn’t make it, but Collins said she was always held, just like she loved to be.

Collins and his wife stayed behind, where other neighbors tended to their injuries and even broke a door to make a stretcher for his wife, according to his post.

“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.”

Collins ended the post, which has been shared nearly 50,000 times, with a touching moment his wife had with Hattie after storytime that night before bed.

“Hattie would rather talk than sleep,” his post said. “She told her, ‘Mommy, I can see Jesus and he is wearing all white.’”

“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.”

Stay with News 2 for continuing coverage of Super Tuesday tornado rebuilding and recovery.

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