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.