James and Donna Eaton had been married for 58 years when they died side by side in a tornado that ripped through their Middle Tennessee town.
Their mattress was thrown from the bed as the twister moved through Mt. Juliet, a suburb of Nashville about 30 minutes east of the city center.
“The home of that family, the Eatons, was probably (in) the worst part of the damage,” Mt. Juliet Police Department Capt. Tyler Chandler told TODAY.
The Eatons were longtime residents of Mt. Juliet. They had been married for 58 years, the Tennessean reported, and James “Jimmy” Eaton would have been 85 on Wednesday.
Their grandson, Jake Hardy-Moore, told the newspaper his grandparents were the “best earthly example of what a marriage should look like.”
“They showed Christ’s love and his sacrifice. They both loved our families through challenging times of life,” Hardy-Moore told the Tennessean. "They were the ones we looked to when times were difficult, and they kept us pointed toward God and to be dependent on God."
The Eatons were longtime members of First Baptist Church Mt. Juliet, and the church’s will hold their funeral on Saturday.
"I think just the suddenness of their passing has really stunned our church family,” Pastor Phillip Dunn told TODAY. "We also know that they were ready in their hearts and ready to meet the lord. Everyone has had to grieve on one hand and then pick up the pieces on the other, and they would want us to do that."
Later Wednesday night, Dunn tweeted about the Eatons, saying they were “Always supportive. Always there. Always cheerful.”
“We will cherish their lives,” he wrote.
Four tornadoes wreaked havoc on Tennessee Tuesday in what state officials say was the second deadliest tornado event in state history. Dozens of people are still missing in the Volunteer State, and at least 24 people are dead.
In Mt. Juliet, Chandler said, one tornado touched down for about seven to eight miles within city limits, killing the Eatons and one person working security at a warehouse.
The Eatons church was also severely damaged, Dunn said, and they will have to hold services this weekend at the local high school.
“I personally continue to drive through the damaged areas and see how everyone has a great attitude and come together to help each other,” Chandler said on Wednesday afternoon. “Sometimes it takes a major incident to bring a community together, and our community has always had a strong bond but this has brought us even closer.”
He added the police department offers its “condolences, support and prayers” as the community rebuilds together.
That sentiment to rebuild was echoed by Dunn as he discussed the damage to their church and campus.
"We took a direct hit," he said. "(But) buildings can always be replaced — life is about relationships."