Eric Gay, Associated Press
A Latter-day Saint father in Vilonia, Arkansas, who died protecting his 5-year-old daughter, is among more than two dozen fatalities following a series of more than 100 tornadoes that cut a path of destruction through the south-central United States on Sunday and Monday, April 27-28.
According to an April 30 emailed report from Church Welfare Services, all missionaries in affected areas are safe, but two homes of Church members were destroyed with several other member homes receiving minor damages.
At least 29 deaths have been confirmed in six states, and tens of thousands of residents are without power, according to the report.
National news media reported impacts from the storms in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Virginia.
President Carlton V. Wing of the North Little Rock Arkansas Stake said Daniel Wassom Jr., 31, of the Conway 2nd Ward, perished as his home was destroyed by a tornado.
“His last earthly act was saving his daughter’s life,” President Wing said.
The daughter, Lorelai, received surgical treatment to remove a piece of wood from her neck, he said, while a 7-year-old daughter, Sydney, was treated for minor injuries and released.
Suzanne Wassom, wife and mother, received serious head injuries.
“We were concerned about her for a while; she was in critical condition,” President Wing said. “Then, early the next morning we got word that she had improved and her condition had been upgraded.
“My wife and I visited her that afternoon, and she was remarkably strong. She was dealing with both physical and emotional trauma, but doing exceptionally well. She had cuts and bruises all over her body.”
On the Weather Channel website, a video was featured showing Brother Wassom’s father, Dan Wassom Sr., combing through the rubble of the home looking for anything of value that might have escaped the destruction.
Of his son, Brother Wassom Sr., a member of the Cabot Ward, said on the video: “He was a wonderful dad, loved his wife and children. He wanted to do the best he could for them within his means, and he did.”
Brother Wassom Sr. said his son had tried to gather his family into a hallway near the center of the house. While Sister Wassom went to look for Sydney, Brother Wassom lay on top of Lorelai to protect her. Sister Wassom later found Lorelai under a piece of carpet, then went to look for her husband and found that he was deceased.
In the neighboring Searcy Arkansas Stake, President Bruce K. Berkheimer said the home of Brent and Leslie Kingrey of the Cabot Ward was destroyed in the storm. Sister Kingrey, and their 5-year-old son, Austin, were hospitalized and released. Sister Kingrey's father, Louie Irving, was also injured.
“Brother Kingrey was out trying to go through the rubble yesterday [April 29], trying to find a lot of the valuables, of which he did not find many,” President Berkheimer said. “But he walked about a half-mile away, and he found an old mission plaque out in a field, in the path the tornado left behind.”
On the plaque was a scripture that was emphasized in the mission where Brother Kingrey served, Isaiah 40:31. It reads, “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
“It was just a tender mercy for him to recover that plaque and receive the message that it contained to bring him some solace and some comfort,” President Berkheimer remarked.
Both President Wing and President Berkheimer said the Little Rock, North Little Rock and Searcy stakes would be combining the volunteer efforts of some 500 stake members for cleanup and relief efforts during the coming weekend.
The Vilonia community experienced a major tornado in 2011.
“So they’ve been through this before,” President Wing said. “It has been really inspiring to see how the people have rallied together.”
Donations have come from people across the North Little Rock stake and across the entire state of Arkansas to help the Wassom family, he said.
The Church Welfare Services report said that throughout the affected areas, local Church leaders are reaching out to all members to assess needs and provide assistance, working with community officials to do so.