Arkansas tornado survivor: 'God left me here
for a reason'

Story by John Iwasaki / Photos by Scott Fagaly/CitiIMPACT Ministries

Even before he saw the tornado bearing down on his house, Shane Gillmore heard it.

Shane Gillmore (left) talks with J.D. Smith (center) and a volunteer from CitiIMPACT Ministries. To the left are the remains of Gillmore's house  in Mayflower, Arkansas.

Shane Gillmore (left) talks with J.D. Smith (center) and a volunteer from CitiIMPACT Ministries. To the left are the remains of Gillmore's house in Mayflower, Arkansas.

"Everybody says it sounds like a train. It does…and it just kept getting louder and louder," says Gillmore, who survived the April 27 tornado that flattened Mayflower, Arkansas. As the twister approached, he grabbed his poodle and tried to barricade himself in his bathroom's walk-in closet.

"When I tried to shut the door, the door wouldn't shut," he says. "It was already on top of me. Five minutes later, it was gone."

By then, so was much of Gillmore’s house.

As debris rained on him, "I just kind of laid there until I didn't hear nothing else cracking," he says. "It wasn't 10 minutes later when the rescue people were here—hollering."

World Vision, working with partner CitiIMPACT Ministries, provided personal hygiene kits, blankets, clothing, food kits, and other items to survivors in central Arkansas. Tornadoes leveled Mayflower and Vilonia, two small towns north of Little Rock, killing 11.

World Vision shipped a similar truckload of supplies to Louisville, Mississippi, where officials reported at least seven deaths in and around the town after a tornado hit April 28.

Shane Gillmore reads a note written by a volunteer and tucked into a personal hygiene kit given by World Vision through a CitiIMPACT volunteer (left).

Shane Gillmore reads a note written by a volunteer and tucked into a personal hygiene kit given by World Vision through a CitiIMPACT volunteer (left).


Gillmore, a semi-professional bowler, has received some supplies from World Vision but mostly redirects offers of help to those whom he feels "need it more."

He plans to rebuild his house—working around a stone archway, the only part left standing that's salvageable—and this time including a safe room.

Staff and local partners of CitiIMPACT Ministries are staying in contact with Gillmore to help meet his social, emotional, and other needs, says J.D. Smith, founder of the humanitarian organization based in Davidson, North Carolina. His ministry works in collaborative partnerships with churches, groups, and individuals.

CitiIMPACT is "one of the best partners that we have," says Phyllis Freeman, national director of disaster response for World Vision's U.S. Programs. "The only way that we can do what God has called us to do…is to do that together."

The fruit of that collaboration is evident in survivors like Shane Gillmore.

"It's good to see people, when stuff like this happens, come together and work," he says, adding that "there's no way any of us out here can thank you all enough."

Gillmore says he once regularly attended church until he "drifted" away from God. His near-death experience is bringing him closer.

As the back wall of his walk-in closet shook violently during the tornado, "I cried out to God and he saved me," he says.

"I know God left me here for a reason."

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