On September 11, 2001, America—and the world—changed forever after a series of terrorist attacks claimed the lives of thousands of people. While New York City was hit the hardest by the attacks, the effects of this act of terrorism engulfed the entire nation in fear and pain.
However, even in the most dire situations, human beings have a way of looking for hope. In the wake of 9/11, so many people reached out to others in need truly showcasing the best of all humanity has to offer.
One of these people was Elizabeth Stringer Keefe. When you find out what Elizabeth did for 13 long years to help one 9/11 survivor, you won’t be able to stop the tears from forming…
For the past 13 years, Elizabeth Stringer Keefe has carried a photograph in her pocket. On the surface, that’s not too unusual; people carry photos of loved ones and special moments with them all the time. But Elizabeth’s story was different—because she didn’t personally know anyone in the photo.
Elizabeth was a professor at Lesley College in Boston, Massachusetts. In addition to her already challenging job, she was the co-president of the Massachusetts Council for Exceptional Children. She was also studying to earn her PhD.
While Elizabeth already led an exceptionally busy life, there was one special tradition that she always made time for over the past 13 years, no matter what. This tradition all began when she traveled to New York in September of 2001…
During the attacks on that fateful day, at the site of the former Word Trade Center that is now known as Ground Zero, Elizabeth and her friend were walking and processing their grief. That’s when Elizabeth’s friend noticed a photograph on the ground. She picked it up and handed it to Elizabeth; it was a battered photograph of some happy people at a wedding.
Elizabeth asked her friend if she could keep the photo. Her friend agreed, provided Elizabeth promised to do something meaningful with the image. Elizabeth decided right then and there that she would do her best to find the photograph’s original owner.
“It was my small contribution, trying to do something good in conjunction to 9/11,” Elizabeth told the NY Daily News in 2014. “The purpose for me was to bring some small comfort to someone.” She set about getting to work trying to bring the photo back to its rightful home.
So, every year on September 11, Elizabeth shared digital copies of the photograph on her social media accounts hoping that anyone would recognize someone they knew—or even themselves—in the photograph. Sadly, time passed, and no one came forward with any information.
Elizabeth heard nothing for years. Then, a local website called Universal Hub learned about her annual tradition of sharing the image online and asking people to spread the word. After that, everything changed for Elizabeth—and her quest reached an important next step!
The exposure on the website really brought viewers to Elizabeth’s posts. In total, 68,800 people shared her post on Twitter, and a Reddit user named Scott Kelly shared the photo in a thread that quickly garnered more than 1,000 replies. Could Elizabeth be getting closer to identifying the people in the photograph?
Elizabeth couldn’t believe that so many were taking up her cause. “I feel like people are giving it the exposure it needs to get the right set of eyes on it,” she told Boston Magazine. “Twitter has literally taken it up. I think that it could be year that it gets back to the owner. I hope so.”
Elizabeth admitted that, while the photograph was found in close proximity to Ground Zero, she had no conclusive proof that it had anything to do with the terrorist attacks at all. Still, she couldn’t shake the feeling that the photograph and the events of that terrible day were related to one another.
If this photograph had survived the attacks of September 11, then there was a chance that its owner did, too. Elizabeth refused to give up hope. Perhaps someone had dropped the photo on their way out of one of the Twin Towers? Or maybe it had flown off a wall in one of the offices inside?
Elizabeth’s search was picking up speed. She was receiving more than 10 tweets per second on her Twitter account. Unfortunately, such a large volume of tweets made it easy for her to overlook one from a man named Fred Mahe. Originally from Colorado, Fred had been living in New York during the attacks on September 11.
“I KNOW THE PEOPLE IN THE PICTURE!” Fred tweeted excitedly. “I was at the wedding.” Unfortunately, Elizabeth didn’t respond, but Fred didn’t give up. The next day, he reached out to her on LinkedIn where he knew his correspondence wouldn’t get buried in other comments. Elizabeth was stunned, and she immediately picked up the phone to call Fred.
Once on the phone with Elizabeth, Fred was able to reveal that, not only did he know people in the photo… but that he was one of them! As the two talked, the secret of this mysterious photograph finally began to come back into focus.
Fred said that the photo was taken at the 2001 wedding of his friends Christian and Christine Laredo in Aspen, Colorado. Fred loved the picture and pinned it to his cubicle wall at Baseline Financial, which was located on the 77th floor of the World Trade Center’s second tower.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, Fred had not yet arrived at work when the attacks occurred. For years he assumed that this photograph, along with many other precious memories, was just one more thing destroyed by that unthinkable act of terror.
Amazingly, Fred told Elizabeth that every single person in the photo was alive and doing well! He was even able to connect Elizabeth to Christine, the bride in the photo, so she could hear all about her new life in California with her husband and young baby girl.
Christine was deeply moved by Elizabeth’s quest. “The photo has become a symbol of resilience after 9/11,” she told NY Daily News. “I can’t wait to show it to my daughter.” Elizabeth’s kind deed proves just how much good our country is capable of even in times of great duress.
For his part, Fred said that Elizabeth being able to return the photograph to him had helped him heal from the events of that awful day. “We saw the worst of humanity on 9/11,” he said. “But on 9/12 we saw the best of humanity. Elizabeth embodies that.”
Stories like this one remind you that, even in the darkest days, hope shines a tiny but powerful light. How amazing is it that Elizabeth was able to return this photograph to its original owner?