Arkansas Tornado Impacts FamilyLife


Please Note: This is a special news story from FamilyLife.

A day of extreme emotions here at FamilyLife.

He died as he lived … protecting his family.

Rob Tittle, a FamilyLife staff member and kindred spirit warrior for the family, died on Sunday night in the tornado that crushed parts of central Arkansas. Two of his daughters—Tori, age 20, and Rebekah, 14—were among the 15 killed in the storm.

The Tittle family

Rob, 48, and his wife Kerry, had watched the sky grow dark and ominous and were shepherding nearly all of their nine children under a stairwell when the tornado disintegrated their home. Rob was doing what a man does—putting his family first and trying to get his two teenage daughters to safety—when the twister hit.

All that is left is a grim grey slab of concrete.

The Tittles’ 19-year-old daughter posted this on Facebook from a friend’s house: “… my mom, and my six brothers/sisters are alright. We have lost three of our family … Dad, Tori and Rebekah, prayers would be appreciated. The house is gone stripped from the foundation. The Lord Gives and the Lord Takes away, Blessed be the Name of the Lord.”

Minutes later and less than 10 miles away, Barbara and I peeked out from under the stairs as the storm passed in front of our home. It tends to get your attention when the TV weatherman says the tornado is bearing down on your street! We could see the wall cloud crossing a lake, less than two miles away.

Thankfully the twister missed our home, but it did chew through the property of another staff couple, Dan and Nancy Butkowski. Their house suffered roof and window damage and the tornado scattered more than 100 trees like matchsticks.

Unfortunately that wasn’t the end for our staff. The tornado swept across the Arkansas River and smashed into the small community of Mayflower (population 2,312) where yet another staff couple, Dan and Kristin, lost their home and their two cars.

Dan saw the twister coming across the river and hurriedly moved his wife, six children, two dogs, a bunny rabbit, and a lizard into the master bedroom closet, which was designed as a storm shelter.

He closed the door. And as the seconds ticked by, Dan said to his children, “This is the day of salvation! If you haven’t accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, NOW IS THE TIME TO DO IT!”

A moment later, the tornado tore into their home, sucking the vent plate out of the top of the shelter. Dan said, “The pressure in that shelter was 10 times that of any airplane ride I’ve ever taken!”

The twister was gone and with it their home.

They looked out of the vent and all they could see was a landscape marked by massive devastation. They couldn’t get out of the shelter, so they called 9-1-1. Neighbors arrived and it took them 30 minutes to get the family out. They were stunned to find a car leaning against the shelter.

The Gaffney home

The family could smell gas leaking, so they walked more than two miles, some barefoot and others wearing their dad’s shoes. They met a friend who took them out to get a pizza and some cookies.

Riding in a van, one of the children said, “This is the worst day of my life!” To which their 10-year-old daughter, who has prosthetic legs, replied, “That may be, but we need to talk about the good things!” The rest of the ride was spent celebrating the “good things.”

Tornadoes are full of tragedy, but also have threads of irony. A photo was posted on Facebook by a local weatherman who asked, “Anyone recognize the name?” It showed Emily and Noah Tittle’s name on a UPS package and an old photo of Kerry when she was a toddler. The items were found in Heber Springs, Arkansas—80 miles from the Tittle’s home.

Tittle debrisThis is a time of extreme emotion here at FamilyLife. We mourn the loss of a good man and coworker and his two daughters, and at the same time we celebrate the survival of so many children and family members. The news could have been much worse. We are giving “thanks in all these things.”

One last post from the Tittles’ 19-year-old daughter: “Dear friends, Do one thing for me. Hug your dad. Hold him tight and don’t let go, that man is the greatest gift God gave to you. Tell him you love him, tell him you will always Love him.”

Pray for these families in their journey with Christ,

P.S. Many have asked FamilyLife how they can help victims of the tornado. Go here for more information. Also, go here to listen to a special FamilyLife Today® broadcast.