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Collin County family who lost 3-day-old baby in tornado welcomed home

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Zuleyma Santillano hugs Bob Hansen of Christ Fellowship Church in her family’s new home on Sunday, July 17, 2016 in Blue Ridge, Texas. Christ Fellowship Church and First Baptist Church Blue Ridge helped to raise money and provide a new home for the Santillano family after their home was destroyed in a tornado on December 26, 2015. The Santillano family also lost their three-day-old daughter, Aaleyah Santillano.

For the first time in nearly seven months, the Santillanos were home.

The family’s lives were uprooted in December by a devastating storm that shredded their Blue Ridge mobile home and killed their 3-day-old daughter, Aaleyah.

But on Sunday, their community gave them a key to a new beginning.

Seven-year-old Michael rushed up the steps of a gray mobile home so he could be the first to unlock the door.

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“I think I’m ready,” Jose Santillano said before walking in. “I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time.”

The Santillanos’ home was one of two destroyed in northeast Collin County on Dec. 26. On Sunday, the Gonzalez family also stepped into a new,fully furnished home, where there was even a casserole awaiting them in the oven.

The homes were purchased with donations that had been collected by Christ Fellowship Community Impact Ministries in McKinney, First Baptist Church Blue Ridge and from the families’ GoFundMe accounts.

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Bob Hansen, a member of Christ Fellowship, said volunteers helped put together both homes over eight weeks.

Jose Santillano and his wife, Zuleyma, toured each room, stopping to hug and console each other after seeing their bedroom.

“It brings back a lot of memories from the first day it happened,” Jose said.

Since the storm, Jose, his wife and their three surviving children had been staying with Zuleyma’s mother in Dallas, which required a 60-mile commute to get their children to school.

Maria Gonzalez and her husband Luis were also brought to tears while inspecting their new home next door to the Santillanos.

“There were a lot of times when I just couldn’t sleep,” Maria Gonzalez said. “Now I’m happy. I have this feeling that I can’t even explain.”

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The couple had been staying with their son Fernando in Princeton.

“It was crazy,” Fernando said with a laugh. “We had 12 people living in that house with one bathroom. We made it work.”

Maria Gonzalez said she was thrilled to be back in her own home.

“I’m staying here starting today,” she said.

Jose Santillano wasn’t so certain he was ready to stay. He’s nervous about living in another mobile home, he said, but the family ultimately decided to face their fears.

“My wife says we are staying, so I guess we are staying,” he said with a smile. “We are taking a step at a time. I’m trying to show my kids that Daddy is strong.”

This story was written and reported by Dallas Morning News staff writer Elvia Limón

Watch the families’ reactions to hearing the news about their new homes for the first time