When all you see in the news is despair and ruin seeing something good from the heart of people is a wonderful thing. Using the power of social media those folks lifted up some people in bad need of good news. Here is the story by Lauren Zumbach.
The tornado that leveled Beth and Dennis Doolan's home in Washington, Ill., scattered their belongings, the winds lifting valued possessions and trash alike and carrying them away.
Some time later, and about 80 miles from the devastation, a photograph dropped into a yard. It was a favorite photograph, taken on the Doolans' 40th anniversary.
But with the help of a Facebook page created after the tornado, they found it once more. A friend looking at the site saw the Doolans' photo and contacted their daughter.
It was the first successful match for the Facebook pages using social media to reunite tornado victims in Washington and Diamond with their storm-tossed possessions, but not the last."There were tears of joy when I told them," said their daughter, Lisa Hoffman.
Each page cataloged found items, some mundane — unopened mail, school work sheets, a church bulletin — and some potentially priceless, including the muddied, unclaimed bridal veil that drifted onto a roof in Streator.
Each post, marked with the city where the item was found, showed the storm's power. It carried a Washington resident's paycheck about 140 miles before dropping it in a Park Ridge garden and scattered Amanda Hicks' great-aunt and great-uncle's pictures, papers and bank statements among Joliet, Minooka and Downers Grove.
The pages showed how determined the finders were to help tornado victims get at least a few familiar items back.
"If there was a fire in my house, my pictures are the first thing I'd grab after getting my family out of the house," said Brenda Strange, who found the photo of the Doolans happily embracing among the insulation, newspapers and roofing debris that landed in her yard in Morris. "Forty years is really something, and even though this is small, hopefully it will give them a little hope."
Becky Siegel-Harty, of Seneca, created the Facebook group that Strange posted on, PHOTOS found from Nov 17, 2013 Illinois Storms/Tornadoes, on Sunday afternoon. She remembered seeing similar social media campaigns after the Joplin, Mo., tornado that killed 161 people in 2011.
"It's a small way to make a difference if you can't get down there to help," Siegel-Harty said. As of Monday afternoon, she said she knew of four matches made through her more than 750-member group, though she speculated that more had been arranged through private messages.
One of those success stories was a photo that her children found of a girl holding a present on Christmas morning. Later that evening, the owner found Siegel-Harty's post. The photo was from one of the now-scattered scrapbooks she'd made with her mom, the woman wrote on Facebook.
Siegel-Harty, who said her 16-year-old son died last year, knows how precious photos can be. "If I lost everything, one picture of him would be the world," she said.
Dan Davidson, who grew up in Morris but now lives in Dayton, Ohio, started another Facebook page called Found items from the Washington Illinois and Diamond Illinois Tornadoes.
It had more than 6,500 likes, dozens of posts and about 20 matches by Monday afternoon, Davidson said. The only images he wouldn't post were sensitive documents, such as medical records and bank statements, which he said should be turned over to police.
The Grundy County Chamber of Commerce, 909 Liberty St. in Morris, also volunteered to collect photos and documents and deliver them to a central Illinois location where Washington and Diamond residents could claim them, Siegel-Harty said.
Davidson said the submission that most affected him was an envelope found in Plainfield addressed to one of the men killed by the tornado, Steve Neubauer, of Washington.
But there were also baby pictures, wedding portraits and even a couple of pets. Bonnie Jones, owner of Beagle's Bay Animal Hospital in Metropolis, added a photo of a Labrador mix rescued Sunday evening in Brookport, with injuries that suggested it had been picked up and dropped by the tornado, Jones said.
The dog — in severe shock and suffering from a broken paw, bruised lung and neck wound when found — is doing well, Jones said, though its owner still hadn't been found. Another Facebook page, Illinois Tornado Animals Lost & Found, featured photos of a couple of dozen missing and unclaimed cats and dogs, as well as a handful of happy reunions.
Several people said they planned to keep searching for lost mementos. Sidney Perrier, of Crest Hill, said he saw some photos while walking his dog at Joliet's Rock Run Preserve. He never imagined they might have been deposited by the tornado until he found an index card with family names and dates of death going back to 1844, he said.
He Googled the most common surname, Kindrig, and found several people living in Roanoke, not far from where the tornado hit. Perrier, who posted his find on Facebook, said he hadn't yet been contacted by anyone who knew the family. In the meantime, he said he would go back to the trail to see if he could find any of the photos he passed by.
According to Chris Miller, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, the 90-mile trek that amazed Perrier isn't unusual. Vertical winds within tornadoes can lift light debris high into the atmosphere where powerful jet streams, blowing more than 100 mph, can carry items hundreds of miles away, he said.
Mike Janulis marveled at the power of social media after posting a portrait of a dark-haired girl in a red sweater that landed in his front yard in Shorewood. He said a tornado destroyed his parents' home in Plainfield in 1990, when there were no such sites.
Janulis said he wanted to find the portrait's owner because he understood what the victims were going through.
"It seems like a long shot and it's just one photo, but at least it's something I can do," Janulis said.