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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — A 7-year-old girl from Alabama lost five family members in a tornado last year, and now she's sharing her incredible experience. In a book Ari Hallmark wrote, she describes seeing her family in heaven.
I the book, called "To Heaven After the Storm," Ari recounts the April 27, 2011 tornado that leveled her grandparents' home, claiming the lives of her parents, her paternal grandparents and her cousin Jayden Hallmark.
It was within this tornado that Ari describes seeing a staircase to heaven. She says she also saw a tall woman with long wavy blonde hair.
When you hear her talk about this, there's no way it didn't happen. ... It's something that happened to her. It's very real. There's no way it's not her experience.
–Dr. Lisa Reburn, family friend
Ari believes the woman was "her angel." Though she had never seen the woman before, Ari said the angel knew her by name and held her hand out.
Ari said she followed the angel to the top of the steps, where she described seeing two huge doors. "They were really tall and had diamond handles," Ari said.
The doors opened, Ari said, and she saw family members who had already passed away. Then she saw someone holding her little cousin Jayden, and she knew immediately it was Jesus Christ.
At that point, the angel took Ari back down the stairs. Ari remembers waking up in a field near her grandparents' home.
"I was just laying there crying for mommy and daddy, not knowing what to do," Ari said.
Enter Dr. Lisa Reburn, a family friend who works at the University of North Alabama and works with grieving children. She's a family friend who became Ari's mentor.
"She had so much detail, and was so articulate," Reburn said.
One thing Reburn and Kim Hunt, one of Ari's teachers, quickly realized is this could help countless children and adults across the country. That's why this book was born. It's filled Ari's artwork and words, and photographs.
"When you hear her talk about this, there's no way it didn't happen," Reburn said. "It doesn't matter what I think. It just is. It's something that happened to her. It's very real. There's no way it's not her experience."
So why the book? Both Ari and Reburn feel it can help countless others understand what lies beyond. After all, Ari says the experience helped "to let me know where they are."
"If you lose somebody close to you, which we all do, to know they went immediately to a whole wonderful place. How can you it not do anything but give you hope?" Reburn said.
It's a hope that "the end" is really just a new beginning.
All the proceeds from the sale of the book will go toward a resource guide for those who want to help children deal with death. If you'd like to know how to order a book, go to their Facebook page To Heaven After the Storm."