It was 19 years ago this week that a powerful tornado slammed into Tuscaloosa, Ala., and killed 11 people. One of the most powerful images from the aftermath of that tragedy was this photo of a man carrying what appeared to be the lifeless figure of a small child from the rubble of her home.
The picture was shot by a Tuscaloosa News photographer and it appeared in newspapers around the world after it was carried by the Associated Press wire. The man is Michael Harris and the little girl is 6-year-old Whitney Crowder.
For years, I had assumed she died that day, but I found out Monday that she is alive and has a happy family of her own.
Among the dead that day were Whitney’s 26-year-old father, Derek Crowder, and her 16-month-old brother, Wesley. The devastating storm left her mother with a broken back and her sister with broken facial bones as well as brain damage. But because of the efforts of Harris to save her from the rubble, Whitney survived and recovered.
This year — as we were going through a threat of severe weather — Whitney (who is now Whitney Daly) sent this photo of her family to local weather broadcaster James Spann and asked him to share it on the anniversary of the tornado.
“I know this is yet another year where we remember what happened on that dreadful day,” she wrote, “but I was hoping this year you could add a little joy by sharing a picture of my family with the story to show everyone how wonderful life can be!”
Her story is a reminder that early struggles and tragedies don’t have to define us. Whitney included a photo of herself with her husband and their infant child. She closed her note to Spann with a message that we all need to apply to our own lives sometimes.
“Miracles do happen,” she wrote, “and life is precious!”