COOKEVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — With the unimaginable loss so many mid-state families experienced a year ago, re-telling these stories hasn’t been easy.
But despite all they lost, the Phillips family, of Cookeville, are sharing their personal pain because they say they remain grateful and faithful to God for getting them through it.
Mike Phillips never thought he’d have a house filled with so many kids.
"You know, no one has to open their home up. We do it because we want to do it," he told us at his Cookeville home.
They have five kids at home between the ages of six and 17.
And then, of course, there was their foster daughter Bridgett. She was 13.
One year after an EF-4 tornado destroyed the Phillips' home, it's still a struggle to comprehend their loss.
Mike and his wife, Kim, spent most of their lives protecting their community as law enforcement officers in Cookeville.
"As a police officer, you see lots of tragedies and lots of deaths," Mike said. "But when it happens to you..."
"I REMEMBER HEARING A BIG SOUND"
The family recounts the morning of March 3, 2020.
Mike and Kim's nephew, Cale, remembers hearing what sounded like the house being ripped off of its foundation.
They had just put the children to bed before waking up to a torando warning. They rushed to gather the kids.
"I was standing at the wall when the front door imploded and hit the stairs," said Mike.
In a few violent minutes, they were all trapped under the debris of their house.
Mike started praying.
"I told God, I said, 'You kept us alive. You protected us," Mike explained. "I said whatever your will is, we are going to do it."
In pitch darkness, they desperately yelled for help, and for their kids.
"It sucked them out of the house. Destiny ended up in the cul-de-sac and Charles ended up in the neighbor's front yard," said Mike.
For a while, no one could find Bridgett.
When her brother, Ethan, discovered her under the rubble, she was already gone.
"SHE LOVED TO SING"
Bridgett McCormick was in the choir at school. The Phillips said her personality and attitude always showed.
Bridgett was their foster child. Now, in her honor, the Phillips' are building a new house with room for even more foster children.
"I don't know if you call it a passion, but I think it's our calling," Mike explained.
After all, it's that calling that brought Bridgett and the other children into their life and tested their faith during this tornado.
"She told her caseworker that the year she was with us was the happiest of her life," Kim said.
The Phillips are currently living in a rental home and hope to move into a new house next month.
They said their new house will have not just a storm shelter but also a basement where they’ll keep the kids. They’ll also dedicate one room, calling it Bridgett’s room.
Editor's note: A special thank you to Photojournalist Quan McWil for his work telling this story.