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.