Infant in iconic photo would have turned 18 today; story behind the picture

Image

As the old saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” But it seems that each generation has only a handful of pictures which capture the essence of major events. This photo of a firefighter cradling a baby in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City Bombing is one of the most famous photographs taken during the 1990s. The baby is a symbol for those who were lost in the tragic attack. She is a symbol of innocence, venerability, and woundedness. The firefighter is a symbol for American society. Immortalized with his expression are the concern and mourning of the people and a desire to rush to the aid of those in need.
 
The baby’s name was Baylee Almon. She would have turned 18 years old today.
 
As a footnote to this famous photo that is now often times forgotten, the Oklahoma City Bombing had actually occurred the day after her first birthday. The firefighter holding her is Chris Fields, at the time, a captain with the Oklahoma City Fire Department. The picture was taken by a 25 year old banker and amateur photographer named Charles Porter. It would win the Pulitzer Prize the following year for spot photography. At almost the same moment that Porter snapped his photograph, another amateur photographer named Lester Larue took a very similar picture.
 
For such a famous picture, Porter actually had the film developed at a nearby Walmart. At the encouragement of a friend, he submitted the photo to the Associated Press, according to an AP story from 1996. In later interviews, he said that he thought that it might make it into a local newspaper. But the next morning, the picture appeared in newspapers all over the world. 
 
In terms of time, 1995 wasn’t so long ago. 
 
Technologically, however, it was a different era. The media wasn’t instant, the internet was new to the average American, and daily newspapers were still relevant. And it was Porter’s image which adorned the front page of newspapers and was brought into people’s homes.
 
There was a media disconnect which existed back then but which is difficult for us to truly appreciate today. Seeing the picture in the newspaper, many prayed for the recovery of the child, unaware that she had actually passed away shortly after the picture was taken. 
 
For all who were lost on that tragic day, it was Baylee’s image which was most widely seen. She was one of 168 people – including 19 children under the age of six – to perish in the bombing.
 
Aren Almon was a single mother in her early twenties on the day of the attack. She wasn’t a government employee (the targets of McVeigh’s attack), but rather, was trying to recover child support payments from Baylee’s father. That’s why the baby was in the nursery of the Murrah Building on the morning of April 19.
For those connected to the photo, their lives were changed. Chris Fields was interviewed on various national news programs. He was flown to places like New York and Los Angeles. Some of the first responders who had assisted at the Murrah Building resented the fame when they had worked just as hard.
 
For Aren Almon, she also faced a backlash. Constant requests for media interviews. Some of the victim’s families were unhappy with the attention this photo gained while their own loved ones seemed ignored. Then there was the opposite end of the spectrum and the fascination some in the public seemed to have with the story. A California man moved to Oklahoma and purchased a cemetery plot near Baylee’s. He would regularly visit her grave site. There was concern that he might attempt something extreme, such as digging up the remains. Eventually Almon’s mother had to get a restraining order against the man.
 
According to various interviews, Almon became friends with the Fields family after the attack. From some of their interviews together, tabloids tried to create the perception that the two had become romantically connected. The media storms continued.
 
And it all started with that photo.
 
The world can seem so random. It could have been a different child, or a different firefighter, or a different photographer. But on that day, in the face of that tragedy, for that time, everything came together for that one photo to define the Oklahoma City Bombing.
 
Two years after the bombing, Almon married, and eventually had a daughter and a son with her husband. 
 
In a 2001 interview with Southern Living, Aren Almon said: “I feel like Baylee was put on this earth to do what she did, and that was to represent everyone who died in the building that day.”
 
Tomorrow will mark 17 years since the tragedy in Oklahoma City happened. For the families of those who were lost in that horrible act of terrorism, after all these years, I hope they know that their loved ones are not forgotten. I feel that the image of Baylee is part of what helps to keep the memory alive for all who were lost. Happy birthday Baylee. 

About the author. Josh Benner is a writer in Chicago, Illinois who typically writes about current events, Christianity, sports, and politics. He is currently working on a Master of Divinity degree at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

About these ads

26 Comments

Filed under Commentary, News

26 responses to “Infant in iconic photo would have turned 18 today; story behind the picture

  1. Schuetzeberg

    The beginning of May following this horrific event, my daughter was born. We named her Baylee in rememberance of a child we had never met with parents we have never known. She is the busiest person I know, filling all her free time doing something for others. I am sure her namesake would be proud.

    • thank you for sharing,. Nice gesture.

    • Debra

      I’m pregnant and teary-eyed, reading this… I live in Tulsa, and was 17 when it happened. That photo is still devastating to see, and if I never saw it again, I’d remember just what it looked like, for the rest of my life.

      I always thought it was even worse that Baylee had just celebrated her 1st birthday… A celebration of life, and the next day, the tragic circumstance of death.

      Well, tomorrow is my youngest child’s 1st birthday—a girl—and that just makes this more somber for me… Life is precious.

      Thanks for the article.

      • Thanks so much for sharing Debra. And thanks for reading. It’s fascinating to see how deeply that picture impacted so many people and how so many of us remember little Baylee all these years later.

        Happy birthday to your daughter! (she shares a birthday with my sister).

  2. melissa rice

    I moved to Oklahoma City shortly after the bombing, where I gave birth to the first of three children. My youngest, and only girl, is also a Baylee. God bless the families of these victims. They have endured so much.

  3. thanks for reading and for sharing.

  4. eromzy

    So touching.. Had tears in my eyes while reading this. Baylee and the others will forever be remembered..

  5. Susan Riddle

    Hi Josh, this morning, 2 days after the Sandy Hook shootings, I was thinking about Oklahoma City. At the time I was a federal employee, worked in the federal building in Cleveland,Oh and had a 2 yr. old daughter on the wait list for the daycare in our federal building. All I could think was how much easier life would be once a spot became available in the daycare in the building I worked. I was conducting an investigative operation at a chicken processing plant who had knowingly hired illegal workers that morning. There was a tv in an office and Peter Jennings was reporting that there was a credit union and a daycare in the building. That’s all I heard, and I knew immediately that something involving a federal building had occurred. As the events unfolded, so did this picture and the story behind it. Namely that Baylee and her family celebrated her 1st birthday the day before this horror. Because my only child was a year older than Baylee this photo was something I could not get out of my mind. I could not stop thinking about this child, her mother, and the pieces of toys and shoes found in the aftermath. I started to visualize my daughter as the child in the photo. Our federal building was receiving bomb threats hourly and was being closed and then reopened in the days following the bombing. I saved the Time magazine with this photo on the cover for many years – it became almost an obligation to keep it. Now I understand that it was post traumatic stress – even though I wasn’t there. I wasn’t fearful for my life when these bomb threats came in like my colleagues were – I kept picturing this photo in my mind and thinking about this little girl. I’ll never forget her name – even now almost 13 years later. It was very touching to read the comments posted here and to learn about other parents who were so affected by Oklahoma City and this photo resulting in more than a few babies born who were named Baylee in honor of little Baylee Almon. This incident was the first national tragedy in my adult life (probably like my parents may have felt when President Kennedy was assassinated). Now my daughter is older and off to college. This morning I think about the families in Sandy Hook and remember what I felt like on that beautiful morning in 1995. The children in Sandy Hook were not that far out of babyhood. All that innocence. There is nothing so provane, so grotesque, so offensive as the murder of children.
    I am thinking about the many families in our country who have small children and can related to this horrible, horrible tragedy. Something remains poignant though – none of these had to happen. SomeONE did these. I’m glad Aren Almon was able to move on, marry again and have children. But mostly I’m grateful she is able to find purpose in the senseless murder of her eldest daughter.

  6. Thanks so much for sharing Susan. Very thoughtful and moving comments. I don’t have children of my own yet, but I can appreciate how parents across the country must be struck by these senseless tragedies. In our own minds, we create mental images that haunt us. I think that this week’s shooting in Connecticut has reminded a lot of people of the Oklahoma City Bombing in the sense that it’s the last major American tragedy where so many little ones were lost. On Friday, this post had over 140 views, which is striking considering that it consistently averages 20, almost all of which are results of searches on Google so I do think that it’s natural to think back to Oklahoma City today. Not sure if that stat is going to be interesting to anyone.

    Regardless, thanks again for posting. Very touching.

  7. Jessica

    thank you for this article…. I think of Baylee often…I will NEVER forget the photo…. the wee little socks…. all the babies in OK, have been on my mind alot this week….

    • I think they’ve been on a lot of people’s minds. OK City was really the last major American tragedy when so many young kids were lost (although there were unfortunately some children on planes on 9/11).

      Thanks for reading and thanks so much for sharing.

  8. Bengalpuss

    Was just at home feeling sorry for myself after having a bad day, then i read your post, and it literally made me weep. Im here and that poor little angel isn.t. That picture moved me to tears, you are right when you say “A picture says a thousand words” It only seems like yesterday when that monster mcvey, murdered all those innocent people. Im from britain and i remember that day when the horror of that bombing came on the news, thankyou for the story, made me realise i don.t have anything to moan at.

  9. Joy

    Happy 19th Birthday, Baylee. Thank you Josh for sharing her story and helping all of us remember those that were killed, Heros, or just in the city on that tragic day. Peace be with them and all those in or related to the recent events in Boston.

  10. I was a teenager living in Ponca City then. I was awe struck then and, this photo painted both a heroic and grizzly scene for me then. Now as an adult, with a son of my own and a little girl, just older than this precious child, this image I had all but forgotten brings on a whole new emotion being a parent.

    Man, I need to go home, like right now and, give my kids a hug! May this angel watch over us all and, these everyday heroes be protected from harm.

  11. Chuck Porter

    Josh, well done article. You did your homework and got the real facts correct…thank you. I should know, I’m the Charles Porter who took the photo.

  12. Denise Cook

    I got married in 1995. I was pregnant in 1997 and my husband and I were so moved by that picture that we decided if we had a girl, her name would be Baylee to honor and memorialize those lost in that tragic event. Everyone we meet always asks how we came up with such a beautiful name, and I tell them the story, that we didn’t come up with it, we are just sharing it with that little baby. This December, we will be celebrating our Baylee’s 16 birthday! Happy Belated Birthday dear sweet little Baylee. You are forever remembered in our home.

  13. Look at little Baylee in that picture; she epitomizes vulnerability. It doesn’t take a super hero, an act of nature, super human forces or anything like that to destroy her. All it took was hate and ignorance. I can’t possibly understand a person would realize the consequences of such an act after the fact and be okay with that. I guess I never will understand.

  14. I was only 8 years old when this occurred, so my memories are mostly scattered, and most of my feelings relating to Oklahoma City and what it represented are more related to the years that followed than to the day itself. But while I don’t remember where I was when I heard about the bombing, I remember exactly what I was doing when I saw this picture. Maybe because I was so young myself and could perhaps relate to seeing a picture of a baby, this was the picture that has always stayed with me, and the first thing I think of when I hear about the bombing. That picture captured everything about the day.

  15. Susan R.

    This is my second comment to this photograph. I receive notification of new comments posted and will always read what others feeling about this iconic photograph. I will always remember this photo as well as where I was when the Oklahoma City Federal Building was bombed. When I posted my first comment it was shortly after the children and their teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary School where gunned down. Today I’m thinking, again, of the many innocent victims and their grieving families killed in Washington DC/Navy Yard shooting. Are we going to become a nation defined by and of tragedies committed by our own citizens? I am tired of hearing of these killings. I’m afraid we are becoming de-sensitized to the almost daily violence in our society.

  16. Tim DeLong

    I have just left the Oklahoma City Memorial. I am at a loss for words. When the attack happened I was like all of America, in shock. Seeing the picture of Baylee sent me into a crisis of faith. It took may years for me to get back. in those intervening years I began volunteering to build playgrounds. After my pastor spoke one day about good things coming out of bad I realized that I was building these playgrounds in memory of Baylee and for all of the children who do et to grow up. In the memorial I sought out information about Baylee and as I turned a corner I found the picture. It was heart wrenching. Seeing Baylee’s chair had me in tears along with the other 18 small chairs. This experience has only strengthened my resolve to get training and work towards full time playground building.

  17. Wonderful website you’ve right here.

  18. Hi! This is kind of off topic but I need some advice from an established
    blog. Is it very difficult to set up your own blog? I’m not very techincal but I
    can figure things out pretty quick. I’m thinking about making my
    own but I’m not sure where to begin. Do you have any points or suggestions?
    Thanks

  19. Woah! I’m really enjoying the template/theme of this blog.

    It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s very hard to get that
    “perfect balance” between superb usability and visual
    appearance. I must say that you’ve done a very good job with
    this. In addition, the blog loads super quick for me on Chrome.

    Excellent Blog!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s