In the rubble remains of the World Trade Center towers after 9/11, a woman found a beautiful but tattered wedding photo.
The woman, Jennie, lived in the area but was about to make a permanent move to California. She wanted the touching photo to make it back into the hands of its owner, whoever that may be. So she called up her friend Elizabeth and asked if she could keep the photo safe, knowing Elizabeth would be persistent enough to track down the people in the photo if they were still alive.
“She gave it to me with the request that I do something meaningful with it,” said Elizabeth Stringer Keefe. “There’s so much beauty and happiness in the photo, and whatever relationship it had to 9/11, I wanted to care for it until I could return it to its owner.”
For 13 years, Stringer Keefe would post the photo on social media, asking people to share it in hopes someone who was in the photo would see it.
“9/11 was a traumatic event for everyone, but there’s no description for the horrors that the people who worked in the World Trade Center and the area experienced,” Keefe told Today.com. “If the photo was connected, I wanted to do just one small thing to bring some comfort.”
For years, a few people would share the image, but nothing would come of it.
But then in 2014, Stringer Keefe’s message started getting traction. The photo went viral, and was shared tens of thousands of time quickly.
Then someone recognized one of the groomsmen in the photo.
Fred Mahe had been the only one looking right at the camera in the picture, and now he found himself looking straight at that old photo of himself, through Twitter.
“I KNOW THE PEOPLE IN THE PICTURE!” replied Fred Mahe. “I was at the wedding.”
Mahe was the owner of the photo, and he had kept it on his desk on the 77th floor of World Trade Tower 2. He had not been in the building when the tragedy happened, because he was still on his way to work.
He was touched—he had no idea someone had found the photo and had been trying to return it for 13 years, without knowing whether the people in the photo were alive or dead.
Mahe rememebers walking out of the subway that morning and knowing instantly something was wrong—he spotted an airplane tire and knew he should stay away from the area.
Since then, he had moved to Colorado to start a family.
Mahe was stunned. “I had not seen that photo for quite a while,” but it immediately brought up great memories for him.
“That was one of my great photos—it had all my friends in it, and it was an awesome wedding,” he said.
The bride and groom in the photo are college friends of Mahe’s, Christine and Christian Loredo. They had gotten married just months before the attacks, in Aspen, Colorado.
“[It’s a] great memento of resilience,” bride Christine Loredo told ABC. “I think it’s nice to know that people out there care so much for strangers. It gives me confidence in humanity.”
That a total stranger had kept their fading photo safe, tucked into her favorite Ernest Hemingway novel, and looked for its owners every year, was so touching to Mahe and the Loredos.
Mahe let Stringer Keefe know how much it meant to him, and confirmed that all six of the people photographed were well and alive. They even planned to meet in New York City.
“My wife invited her to Thanksgiving,” he said.
For Mahe and others, this was a meaningful gesture that showed humanity in the wake of 9/11. For Stringer Keefe, it was what she knew she had to do.
“We saw the worst of humanity on 9/11,” Mahe said. “But on 9/12 we saw the best of humanity. Elizabeth embodies that.”
“The outpouring of support from the online community is what made this work,” Stringer Keefe also said. “Small acts of kindness can have a very big impact.”