Less than two weeks before his death, firefighter Cory Barr, 34, who died in a gas leak explosion on July 10, took his final family photos with his 3-year-old twins, wife, and dog. But those images aren’t the ones getting all the attention right now.
The day after his death, photographer Jennifer Andersen shared one of his wife’s favorite photos of the firefighter captain, and it’s tugging at Facebook’s heartstrings. The image shows Barr from the back. He’s wearing his firefighter uniform and holding his twin daughters, who were about 2 weeks old at the time of the 2015 photo shoot. The 15-year veteran of the volunteer fire department in Sun Prairie, Wis., is cradling one sleeping baby on each shoulder. Both girls are wearing adorable tiny knit firefighter outfits, helmets included. The image is incredibly touching, and the internet agrees; it has 3,000 likes on Facebook and 1,600 shares as of this writing.
“What a photo for his family to treasure!” wrote one follower. “Beautiful photo speaks volumes. Praying for the family,” said another. “What a great photo! Praying for the Barr family as they find their new normal. Such a tragedy,” echoed a third. “This is such an incredible photograph. Simply incredible,” someone else lauded. “What an amazing photo … breaks my heart.”
“Going viral was not something I ever anticipated,” Andersen tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “When we lose someone, all we want to do is grieve, talk about them, remember them, share stories.” So, she shared one of her favorite memories of Barr. And she had quite a few to choose from; she’s been doing their family photos since the twins were born, which is when Andersen first met the family. “Since then, though, I’ve seen them every year for their birthday photos — one year, two years, and we just did their three-year photos less than two weeks before the accident.”
When Andersen heard the news of the tragic gas leak that led to an explosion in the tavern that Barr owned with his wife, Abby, as well as a large part of Sun Prairie, she remembered that she still had to edit those photos.
“When I posted the photo, it was just because I was heartbroken for a family I had just seen,” she says, referencing their very recent shoot. “I knew I had to now edit the images of Cory and his family, and I cried a lot during that.”
Editing these final images was understandably tough, but working with Barr was not. “Cory was so easygoing and likable,” Andersen recalls. “With family photos it’s often the dad who’s not exactly ‘agreeable’ … doesn’t really want to be there. That wasn’t Cory; whatever Abby wanted and would make her happy, he was more than willing to do,” she says. He was the same way with his children. “He was a very doting father. Especially with twins, their hands were full, but he wasn’t one to sit by; he was right in the mix, helping with the girls’ hair, dresses, shoes, etc. The girls adored him.” At the three-year session, the girls were arguing over who would get to sit in Daddy’s lap for the family photos. “They really were that picture-perfect family you imagine growing up.”
According to a GoFundMe page set up by the Bethlehem Lutheran Church, which the family attended, Barr was well known in the community. The GoFundMe campaign is raising money to support his family during this devastating time, and it even got the attention of NFL player J.J. Watt, who donated $10,000. The goal of the campaign was to raise $15,000; in the first four hours, almost $40,000 was raised.
“I’ve only spoken with Abby via messenger … trying to respect her space,” says Andersen. “They are devastated, as you can imagine, but Abby has blown me away with her poise and strength during a time that I can’t even imagine. On the evening of the explosion, many of us were following along with the news and knowing that Cory was a firefighter and owner of the Barr House; there was a lot of concern for his safety,” the owner of Angelic Angles photography recalls. “People were posting online, reaching out, asking if he was all right. Even in the midst of all the unknowns that evening, Abby took the time to respond.”
And the next day, after seeing Andersen’s post, Abby Barr reached out to her and thanked her for the tribute to Cory, saying the photo was one of her favorites. “The outfits were all Abby’s idea; she purchased and brought them with.” The photo is the result of two images, Andersen explains. “One child on Dad’s arm at a time with a spotter, and then we put the two images together. Safer for the babies that way.”
While the attention is unexpected, it just makes this already amazing photo even more special. “I hope that the result of this image going viral is that Cory’s daughters will one day be able to look back at all of the news coverage and see that the entire world recognized what an incredible man their daddy was.”
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