ARLINGTON — On Wednesday, members of the Saint Barnabas United Methodist Church hosted the Seventh Day Adventists to say thank you for taking them in last year. On April 3, 2012, when the church needed a place to worship after the twisters of that day, the Adventists welcomed them.
"That's where we hid out," said Pastor Will Cotton as he walked into what is now a choir room on the first floor. "We sang hymns and tried to keep the kids calm."
As twisters raged outside, dozens of children were huddled in the church.
Pastor Cotton said about 30 adults clung to 72 children as a tornado chewed through the church building just above them and all around them. Much of the second floor disappeared.
"In all three different rooms we were singing Jesus Loves Me. Then the lights go out. Then there was some screaming," he remembers.
No children were harmed. But the building suffered $3.5 million in damages.
In the south Arlington neighborhoods around the church, residents crept from their own hiding places. Police officers rushed in.
"I just knew we were going to have fatalities and massive destruction, people going to be killed," recalls Officer Tim Henz.
He's still amazed everyone survived. Henz shot cell phone video as a tornado crossed State Highway 287 in front of him, then followed it in.
"You're running to doors. You're knocking on doors," he says. He climbed over trees and into shattered homes. One home stands out.
"There was an elderly lady under the kitchen table. She was screaming, but she was OK," he said.
Henz received the police officer's award for merit for his work that day.
"The hardest part is really just seeing the victims," he says, his eyes misting a little. "You know what they're going to have to go through."
Henz is a 30 year department veteran who grew up in south Arlington. Normally he rides a motorcycle. On April 3, 2012, he was in a squad car — and grateful for it.
"I would have been like the Wizard of Oz going up with Dorothy," he laughs.
Most homes have been rebuilt, and a few replaced. Trees still show scars, but streets are once again lined with leaves.
And at Saint Barnabas, Pastor Cotton says the tornado brought more people and more enthusiasm to the church.
"This was the renewal of our church," he says. "God pushed the reset button."
To celebrate survival and growth, he says, they hope to serve funnel cake.