On May 7th 2012 reported at thearabtribune.com. Arab, Alabama - Ari Hallmark was 6 years old last year when an EF-4 tornado hit Ruth killing five members of her family, but she vividly remembers the horror and destruction. She remembers cows flying through the air, trucks hitting the house, glass breaking all around her.
And she remembers taking a quick trip to Heaven.
Ari tells her story in a new book she co-authored. "To Heaven: After the Storm," became a work in progress once Ari started sharing her experiences surrounding the day of, and immediately following, the April 27 tornadoes with Dr. Lisa Moses, a life-time educator with a PhD in early childhood cirriculum and instruction.
Moses also worked with Julia Fleming, Ari's blind friend and fellow Arab Primary School first grader on her book about Seymour the Snake, who is able to see better after crawling into a soda bottle, which magnifies things the way eyeglasses do. Ari decided that she would like to write a book one day, too.
Although not what Moses ever imagined, Ari began talking with her in the fall of 2011 and eventually participated in about seven interviews with her. Moses recorded her words using a lapel microphone as Ari drew and talked over the next several months. Moses took Ari's detailed descriptions of her experiences and, using Ari's own words, organized the book. (By the time the book is published, Moses will have gotten married and her byline on the book will read Dr. Lisa Reburn.) Its proceeds will benefit Treasure Boxes, a guide that teaches people how to talk to children about the death of a loved one.
Ari's book is about April 27, 2011. Her family members who were killed were Phillip and Ann Hallmark (in the book they are Paw Paw and Maw Maw); Shane and Jennifer Hallmark (Ari's parents) and Jayden Hallmark, Ari's 17-month-old cousin. Ari now lives with her maternal grandmother, Susan Garmany.
"It really is Ari's story, just like she told it to me," Moses says. "I think her story will touch many people. I used Ari's words, and I used grammar and punctuation in a manner that I hope will allow the reader to hear a young child telling her story."
The book is being self-published and will be a 10x10-inch hardback, with glossy color pages. Moses thinks of the book as a coffee-table book. The cover is colorful and full of hope.
Preorders taken for the book at Merchants Bank in Arab before Wednesday will cost $15 (basically the cost of the book). After that they will be $20. When the book is opened, left side pages will feature drawings by Ari and additional artwork by APS teacher Kim Hunt. Right side pages will feature the text of the story.
Moses hopes the book will be in stores around the Fourth of July.
"To Heaven" opens with Ari and her parents, Shane and Jennifer, getting the bathroom of their new house in Ruth set up for the predicted storms.
We had pillows and blankets and my sleeping bag just in case I wanted to take a nap in there, Ari says in the book.
Her father was outside getting the chicken houses ready for the storm. He saw the wind blowing "really bad" over the house of his parents, Phillip and Ann.
Shane decided they should go get his parents and Ari's cousin, who was there, and bring them back to their house to wait out the storm.
But when they got to Phillip and Anne's it was too late to go anywhere else. The storm was basically there. The family gathered in a bathroom that Ari says was "teeny tiny."
My Dad got into the bathroom right before Maw Maw locked it. Then the door of the bathroom started creaking - you could hear it. It was trying to break off.
Ari says she did what she was taught at school and wrapped her arms around her legs with her head tucked in.
Before the tornado hit, windows started breaking and the front door just fell off, she says.
My Dad was hanging onto me in the bathroom when everything started hitting the door. He was hugging me real tight. We could hear trucks hitting the house... You could actually feel the house going sideways," she continued. The house turned over and the sink fell out. It was that fast... Then something knocked me out...
After she was knocked out, Ari remembers going to Heaven for a minute.
"It isn't like it was a dream to her," Garmany says. "It is real to her."
Maw Maw said, "Oh, look at that!" It was a staircase. They just started walking up. Then the angel turned his head and saw them and thought, "Let me go help them cause they don't know where they are." Ari says it looked like the angel was standing up, but he was flying at the same time.
The angel, my angel and me were watching. No one talked. We just all pretty much understood and started walking... Maw Maw, Paw Paw, my Mom with Jayden in her arms and then my Daddy. We went really fast up the stairs.
When they got to Heaven, Shane, who had been bald and wore glasses, now had hair and no glasses - and no marks on his nose from the glasses, Ari writes.
I actually thought I'd never see my Dad with hair. Ari describes Heaven as having big doors with diamond handles and angels who opened them.
These angels would face out by the doors and they would guard this door so the devil or nothing couldn't get in... Going up the stairs my family just all had their normal clothes on. When they got to the doors, it just changed and they had on creamy white clothes.
She says her family members got in a line. Her other Paw Paw, Mike Garmany who died when she was a baby, greeted them, but she knew him. Ari heard her dad ask Jesus if there was anything he needed to do, and Jesus told him that he could build houses in Heaven. Then my angel told me it was time to go back down. I saw the streets were gold... I saw some deer and I remember seeing a robin. I saw some fruit trees. Then my angel said, "Let's go Ari, we're going back down..." I don't know how she knew my name cause I didn't tell her or anything...
It was more fun going up watching my family. Going down with my angel was just normal.
The trip down took a while, but Ari wasn't scared. She wasn't scared or excited or worried about her family.
I knew what they (her family) were doing... I knew.
Ari then tells of being found by a man and that she remembers a little of him carrying her. She says she remembers the ambulance being loud - and cold, but she couldn't open her eyes. She says she doesn't remember going to the hospital at all.
She talks about her days in Huntsville Hospital and the visitation for her family members. She remembers there being so many people there. A woman from Tennessee who drove to the funeral brought Ari a photograph of her with her parents the woman found in her yard.
In the end, Ari says she wants to be a nurse, just like her mother. She plans to go to Snead State Community College, just like her mother did.
I'll be cheating on the tests, though, cause I already know all the answers! she writes. My mom taught me.
Ari holds nothing back. She tells it like it is.
"She is not horrified by what happened," Garmany says. "She is doing great now. She obsesses about the weather some. If there are weather alerts out, she pays attention to them and she gets a little antsy if the weather gets bad.
"She doesn't spend the night with people yet," she added. "She has issues about going into rooms by herself, and she has to know where I am all the time. And she visits with her (father's family) Uncle Ricky and Aunt Regina and cousin Julie weekly."
Moses says Ari is progressing wonderfully, both physically and emotionally. In fact, physically, she is as healthy as a 7-year-old can be. A year ago was a different story.
She had many injuries - broken bones, staples in her head and 70 stitches in her back - but she survived. She had bruised ribs from where her father held her so tightly, most likely saving her life.
"This community felt the loss of this family, too," Moses says. "If this were Chicago or other larger city, I don't know that she would be doing as well as she is. But she is in a loving community.
"It was a community loss, and they have all wrapped their arms around this family. She's an amazing little girl. She's very unique - she's very fortunate to be a part of the Arab Alabama community."
May 7, 2012 - Reported in whnt.com. Ari Hallmark could be one of the most remarkable 7 year olds you will ever meet. Somewhere between gymnastics and finishing up the first grade, she’s managed to become an author. “I like to read a lot,” Ari tells us. ” I just do it for the prizes, I don’t really like to read that much.”
What adds to Ari’s remarkable story, is the subject of her book, which is titled “To Heaven, After the Storm.” On April 27th of last year, Ari, along with her mom and dad, Shane and Jennifer Hallmark, her grandparents, Phillip and Ann Hallmark and her two cousins, Jayden and Julie, sought shelter in a bathroom to ride out an EF-4 tornado.
Her book talks about it all. “When we were in the bathroom,” she says. “And when we were in the hospital. And when we got out of the hospital.” Only she and her cousin Julie survived. However, Ari says that for awhile, she joined her family members in Heaven. She describes in vivid detail seeing her father Shane, who had been bald all of her life, with hair.
She writes that, “my daddy did not have his glasses. And he did not have the marks where they were.” She says an angel came to her and told her it was time to go back. She says she then remembers waking up in a field near the house. The proceeds from Ari’s book will help a ministry for other children dealing with death. Her therapist suggested the idea.
“She’s was like, hey, let’s make a book. And do it to help other kids,” Ari says. The book will be published in July. You can pre-order a copy at Merchants Bank in Arab, Alabama. Their number is 256-931-2705.
7-year-old says she saw Heaven in April 27 storms
May 8, 2012 reported in wsfa.com Alabama - She drew a picture of the stairs she says lead up to Heaven. She said she and her family walked up those steps during last April's tornado. Ari Hallmark, her mom and dad, grandparents and her infant twin niece and nephew huddled inside her grandparent's home in the Ruth community of Arab as a tornado approached.
When the home was torn apart, and the family was literally picked up inside the tornado, Ari says she saw a stairway. She said she saw an angel, who reached out toward her. "She was very tall and had blond hair and it was curly," Ari said.
As Ari and her family members climbed the steps, she noticed a change in her dad. He was bald and wore glasses, but not when she saw him. "He went to Heaven and he had hair," she said. "And no glasses." She says she saw a lot of people, including relatives who had gone on before her. "I saw my Paw Paw Garmany, that's my Nanny's husband. And then I saw, I think it was my Nanny's Momma and Daddy," she said.
She says she also saw "the Pearly Gates, which were white with crystal handles." She said she saw Jesus, but she didn't enter Heaven. "My angel, she said, ‘Come on Ari. Let's go back down,'" she said. That's when she found herself lying in a field 200 yards from her grandparent's home. She wrote a book, compiled it and called it "To Heaven, After the Storm."
Excerpts were taken from recorded sessions Ari had with her therapist, Dr. Lisa Reburn. It also included pictures and quotes from Ari. Her family hopes it will help other children understand death, and life, and Heaven. The book is set to be published in July. The family says the finished book will be titled, "Treasure Boxes," which is what Ari called her family members' caskets. The book will be donated to churches and other groups to help grieving children.
Visit To Heaven After The Storm' facebook page.