Family photos restored after 3 boys, grandma die in fire

CINCINNATI (AP) — Family members of three boys and their grandmother killed in a house fire the morning after Christmas now have hundreds of photos salvaged from the blaze to help preserve memories of their loved ones.

About 260 photos, which were about the only items rescued from the Dec. 26 fire in Washington Court House, were restored by art conservation graduate students at the University of Delaware. Many of the photos were charred, covered in soot and stained by the water used to fight the blaze that took the lives of 60-year-old Terry Harris and her grandsons: Kenyon, 14, Broderick, 11, and Braylon, 9. Police had said the boys wanted to spend Christmas night with their grandmother so she wouldn’t be alone.

The state fire marshal’s office said Friday that the cause of the blaze hasn’t been determined.

The restored photos were delivered to the family Friday in a tear-filled gathering in their hometown about 75 miles north of Cincinnati.

The boys’ father, Ricky Harris, told those gathered for the delivery of the photos that he was very grateful to have the photos that include ones of his sons and mother.

“It is hard to see the photos, but it was always hard to look at old photos even when they were here because of the reminder of the time I had already lost with my boys and mom,” he told the Washington Court House Record Herald, saying he can’t help but lament all the good times they had gone by.

Debra Hess Norris, chairwoman of the University of Delaware’s art conservation department and a photograph conservation professor, delivered the photos to the family. She told The Associated Press in a telephone interview afterward that it was an emotional day and an honor to meet the family after working so long on their photographs.

“I think we all felt so connected to the family,” she said.

Michael Emmons, a doctoral student in preservation studies at the University of Delaware and a Harris family friend, also helped deliver the photos. Emmons, who found the photos at Ricky Harris’ home where they had been taken after the fire, had sent the photos to Norris.

“I wasn’t even sure they could be restored,” he said by telephone afterward.

An unexpected result from the restoration work was the development of some new techniques for the preservation of fire-damaged photographs, Norris said.

She said the family told her that Terry Harris had kept photos in a plastic bin in her home.

“It was really a miracle that these photographs survived,” Norris said.

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