Photos mean a lot to Judith Francis. So much so that on Sept. 11, as she hurried down the stairs from her office on the 102nd floor of 2 World Trade Center, she thought about the prints that awaited her at Kelly Film Express in the building's subterranean mall. "I was going to go grab them," says Francis, 39, of Jersey City, whose snaps included one of a drawing of a rose by a friend and one of her mother at the Twin Towers. "But I thought, 'No, I can't.' " Minutes after her escape the building fell. Says Francis, a compensation specialist for the insurance company AON: "I thought the photos were gone."
But on Sept. 20, while leading a search for victims, NYPD Lt. Michael Pappas stumbled onto the undamaged store, where 500 rolls of pictures lay in a bin. "We said, 'We have to get this out,' " says Pappas, 41, of Long Island. "These are memories." Fearing the walls might collapse, he and his team dragged the photos out in garbage bags, then found Kelly owner Allan Tamarkin at his office near his Staten Island home. Tamarkin, 55, pledged to locate the pictures' owners—no easy task, since the Trade Center phone numbers listed on many envelopes no longer worked. But he publicized his company's phone number, and to date more than half the prints have been returned, gratis. Says Tamarkin: "It's the right thing to do."
On Oct. 2, still mourning the 176 coworkers who didn't make it, Francis got the e-mail that her prints were at the company's midtown store. "I said, 'My pictures are here!' I was like a child," she says. "For someone to risk their lives to retrieve those is amazing." Pappas insists he's no hero. "We lost a lot," he says. "This is just a little thing to get back."
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