Special Reports

Natalia Puebla, 17, and Sandra Thomas, 55 | ‘It happened as it should have’

Natalia Puebla always felt that she wouldn’t live long. She even prayed to Jesus to ask that if something were to happen, she wanted to go before her mother. She didn’t want to live on Earth without her.

Sunday night, as the roof of Joplin Full Gospel Church caved in around them, her mother, Latina Puebla, remembers Natalia holding tight to Natalia’s aunt, Sandra Thomas, while praying and speaking in tongues.

“She was in direct communication with the Lord she was about to go see,” Latina said.

Natalia, who was a few months away from her 18th birthday, and her 55-year-old aunt were among four people who died in the church. They drove from their home in Carthage every week for Sunday night service in Joplin.

“I couldn’t breathe,” Latina said, recalling the weight of the roof pressing down on her. “My sister, of course, was hollering for that weight to get off of her, and I could hear her passing away. I couldn’t hear Natalia.”

Latina remembers beginning to lose consciousness, and with it any sense of time. It could have been two minutes, it could have been 20, before neighbors from across the street came to dig them out.

Latina heard voices telling them that help was coming.

“I remember thinking that I knew I didn’t want to live if she didn’t live,” Latina said of her daughter. “But God had other plans.”

The neighbors hauled the roof off the people trapped beneath. But it was too late for Natalia and Sandra.

Natalia had just finished her first year at Ozark Christian College, where she had a 4.0 grade point average and was on the dean’s list while studying sign language.

“She’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” Latina said. “She wanted to be the type of person that somebody would think about years after she was gone and think, ‘I want to be like her.’ ”

Sandra worked at Justin Boot Factory and volunteered with the church nursery.

Sandra didn’t have children and often looked after Natalia as her own.

“For her to be here and Natalia gone, she wouldn’t have been happy,” Latina said. “It happened as it should have. They went together.”