Be­hind an iconic photo, one fam­ily’s tale of grief

Edgar Hollingsworth re­fused to leave his home. Then Ka­t­rina hit.

USA TODAY International Edition - - Front Page - By Jill Lawrence USA TO­DAY

BA­TON ROUGE — When she saw the pic­ture in the news­pa­per, she couldn’t speak. There was her front porch, bare of the hang­ing spi­der plants she had taken down for the storm. And there in the arms of a sol­dier lay her hus­band, ema­ci­ated and un­con­scious, hooked up to oxy­gen and F uids.

It was 17 days af­ter she had kissed him good­bye, 16 days af­ter Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina made land­fall, 15 days af­ter the F ood­wa­ters rose to ? ll the bowl that is New Or­leans.

Weeks later, re­mem­ber­ing her ? rst sight of the pho­to­graph, Lil­lian Hollingsworth blinks back the tears that she could not stop then. “ I just held the pa­per and looked at it for a while,” she says, and adds, barely au­di­bly, “ I was hop­ing they had res­cued him.”

They had tried. But Edgar Hollingsworth, died two days af­ter he was found.

By then the pho­to­graph, taken by Bruce Cham­bers of The Orange County ( Calif.) Reg­is­ter,

had been on the front pages of more than

20 news­pa­pers. And it had be­come a sym­bol of all that went so ter­ri­bly wrong in the

wake of Ka­t­rina.

Yet the story be­hind the photo is richer, more com­pli­cated and more painful than that. It is the story of one fam­ily and thou­sands of oth­ers, one or­deal that re F ects what tens of thou­sands en- 74,

dured. It is the story of a stub­born man who was proud of his home and his Army ser­vice, and the loved ones who now - nd them­selves in tragic straits all too com­mon in Ka­t­rina’s wake: be­reaved, home­less and job­less, sep­a­rated from each other, fac­ing empty days and un­cer­tain fu­tures.

Lil­lian Hollingsworth, 67, sits in a stark lit­tle gar­den apart­ment 75 miles from home, in a city in which she knows no one but her son.

It is fur­nished with a card ta­ble and chairs, a TV, two out­door chaises and a cou­ple of air mat­tresses.

“One d ay e veryth ing can be - ne,” she says in the gen­tle voice of a South­ern lady. “ The next day you have noth­ing.”

A fate­ful de­ci­sion

Lil­lian and Edgar Hollingsworth lived a mod­est ver­sion of the Amer­i­can Dream.

She was a sec­re­tary, and he worked at an A&P ware­house. They had a son, Wesley, and in 1974 bought a one- story “ side- by- side” house in the Broad­moor neigh­bor­hood. Edgar kept it clean and in good re­pair; Lil­lian had pot­ted plants and gar­dens of roses, gera­ni­ums, poin­set­tias and peri­win­kle.

And she dec­o­rated. She re­did the walls. She bought bur­gundy and gold wall borders to match her cur­tains. “ I’d - xed up my house so pretty,” she says. “ My house was paid for. So I was just go­ing to re­lax and en­joy my re­tire­ment.”

Like many city res­i­dents, the Hollingsworths did not drive much out­side town. Their 1992 Chevy Cor­sica “ wasn’t in good enough shape to take it on the high­way,” Lil­lian says. So when Mayor Ray Na­gin ad­vised his con­stituents to evac­u­ate, she re­served a van with a rental car com­pany. She wrote down h er c on - rma­tion n um­ber, told her hus­band the plan and packed a suit­case with his clothes.

On Sun­day­morn­ing, Aug. 28, she went to the air­port to get the van, only to be told that there were no ve­hi­cles avail­able.

“ I was re­ally up­set, and I was re­ally scared,” she says. “ The storm was com­ing, and they wanted ev­ery­body out of the city.”

Fam­i­lies across New Or­leans were scram­bling to come up with plans. The Hollingsworths de­cided to take refuge with rel­a­tives who had sec­ond D oors. Wesley’s two sons would go to an aunt’s house with their mother, his ex- wife. Lil­lian and Edgar would go to Wesley’s sec­ond- D oor apart­ment in the Mid City neigh­bor­hood, less than 3 miles away.

But Edgar re­fused to go.

His grand­sons, age 16 and 21, begged him to leave. So did his wife, son and for­mer daugh­ter- in­law. “ If the storm comes, we’re not go­ing to be able to get back to you for a cou­ple of days,” Lil­lian warned.

But he could not see the sense in leav­ing for an­other Dood-prone neigh­bor­hood nearby.

“ Don’t worry,” he said. “ I’ll be just as safe here as I would at Wesley’s house. The storm’s not go­ing to hit. It’s go­ing to go around, the way all the oth­ers did.”

Wesley, 48, con­sid­ered forc­ing his fa­ther into the car. “ It­was such a nerve- rack­ing sit­u­a­tion,” he says. “ But I had never an­gered him to that point or tried to make him do some­thing he didn’twant to do, so I wasn’t about to do it at that age.”

Look­ing back on th at con­ver­sa­tion, Lil­lian chokes up. “ All of a sud­den he got real stub­born,” she says. “ If he says he’s go­ing to do some­thing, he’s go­ing to do it. And if he tells you he’s not go­ing to do it, he’s not go­ing to do it. And you might as well just leave him alone, be­cause he’s not go­ing to do it.”

She told her neigh­bors across the street that Edgar was stay­ing be­hind, but she made few other prepa­ra­tions. She didn’t put her pic­tures in high places. She didn’t take any valu­ables with her. She packed one change of cloth­ing and as­sumed she’d be back in a day or two. She gave her hus­band a kiss and left.

At that mo­ment, the Hollingsworths joined a group that even­tu­ally num­bered in the tens of thou­sands: fam­i­lies di­vided by Ka­t­rina.

A Ka­t­rina odyssey

The next day, the storm came and the wa­ters rose. Wesley, his moth er a nd h is g irl­friend stayed dry in Wesley’s sec­ond- D oor apart­ment, even as wa­ter lapped at the rooD ines of sin­gle-story houses across the street. But they didn’t feel safe. “ We were just lucky for the time be­ing. Butwe didn’t know when our luck was go­ing to run out,” Wesley says.

From the mo­ment the storm ended, they started try­ing to make con­tact with Edgar. But they couldn’t get back to the house, and “ the phones were all out,” Lil­lian re­calls tear­fully. “ It­was hor­ri­ble.”

So they waited, Wesley says, and they won­dered: “ What was he do­ing? What­was he think­ing? Was he all right?”

The food and wa­ter at Wesley’s apart­ment ran out Wed­nes­day. Res­cuers came by in boats and said they’d re­turn, but they never did.

On Thurs­day, a neigh­bor D oated by on a D at­boat and said he’d be back for them. He kept his prom­ise.

“ I told him he was my an­gel,” Lil­lian says.

“ He sure was,” says Wesley. re­al­ly­wish I knew his name.”

Late Thurs­day af­ter­noon, they ar­rived at a stag­ing area at In­ter­state 10 and Cause­way Boule­vard. They ex­pected to - nd buses ready to take them to shel­ter. In­stead, they found thou­sands of peo­ple and no buses.

The Hollingsworths waited all night and through most of the next day in the heat and chaos. A few buses would ar­rive ev­ery few hours. Na­tional Guard sol­diers tried to co­or­di­nate board­ing, but the crowds were too des­per­ate. “ Ev­ery­body had one thing in mind — get­ting out of there and get­ting on the bus,” Wesley says.

On Fri­day af­ter­noon, they - nally boarded a bus so crowded that Lil­lian had to sit on the D oor un­til a young wo­man of­fered her seat. Th ey d id n ot k now wh ere t h ey were headed. “ I just re­ally didn’t care,” Lil­lian says. “ I was very con­fused. I just had given up. I had stayed out for so long in the hot sun, and ( I was) hun­gry. I just­wanted to sit down. I just wanted to get where it­was cool.”

The bus took them 120 miles to Mor­ganza, north­west of Ba­ton Rouge, only to - nd the shel­ter there full. But along the way, Lil­lian had seen a high­way sign for New Roads — home of her nephew. Shel­ter work­ers in Mor­ganza gave them food, and a young wo­man drove them the 10 miles to New Roads.

“ I just couldn’t go any farth er,” Lil­lian says.

A be­lated res­cue

“ I

When they reached a phone in New Roads, the Hollingsworths called the Red Cross to try to lo­cate Edgar. They called an emer­gency num­ber an­nounced on a ra­dio sta­tion. They called a num­ber crawl­ing along the TV screen. But they didn’t hear back from any­one.

The Broad­moor area, mean­while, was sit­ting in more than 6 feet of wa­ter. Boats went by, but searchers couldn’t go door to door un­til the neigh­bor­hood was pumped out nearly two weeks af­ter the storm.

“ It was ter­ri­ble,” Lil­lian says of the wait­ing. “ Some­times I would think the worst. And then some days I would think the best. I was pray­ing that some­body had res­cued him.”

When search-and- res­cue teams - nally went in, they were told to knock on doors, lis­ten for a re­sponse, help those who needed it, call for body re­moval if nec­es­sary. They were told not to force en­try.

On Tues­day, Sept. 13, Capt. Bruce Gaffney led a Na­tional Guard unit from S an D iego t h rough t h e Hollingsworths’ neigh­bor­hood. It reeked of mold and sewage.

Gaffney, 48, says mark­ings on their door, in­clud­ing an “ X” and a zero, showed a team had checked the house and con­cluded no one was inside. An­other mark — “ SPCA” — showed the house had been checked for an­i­mals, he says.

That made his team the third “ set of eyes” on the house.

The wrought- iron se­cu­rity gate at the front door was locked, but the door was cracked open a few inches. Sgt. Jeremy Ridge­way spot­ted part of a leg and called to Lt. Fred­er­ick Fell, the pla­toon leader.

The per­son ap­peared dead, but Fell wasn’t sure. The leg, he told his col­leagues, looked “ a lit­tle D eshy.” De­spite the or­der not to breach homes, he says, “I didn’t think twice about go­ing inside. It was what needed to be done.”

Spc. Al­fredo Ramos, a 6- foot, 300-pound for­mer Navy medic, wrenched the se­cu­rity gate open. Then Ridge­way, Ramos and Spc. Eric Brady made their way through the wreck­age and 2 feet of stand­ing wa­ter in the house.

There was no food or drink­ing wa­ter in sight. The liv­ing room couch was tipped over, its back D at on the D oor.

Edgar Hollingsworth, al­most skele­tal, lay un­clothed on that up­ended couch, a cof­fee ta­ble rest­ing against his head, his el­bow pressed against his rib cage. The guards­men called to Fell that au­thor­i­ties needed to pick up a body. Thirty sec­onds elapsed, and then Hollingsworth gasped for air.

The three men leapt back­ward. “ We had never been so scared,” says Ramos, 22. “ It was like some­thing out of a movie.”

Sud­denly the tempo was fren­zied. A sol­dier raced more than two blocks to a sup­ply truck to get a med­i­cal kit. Gaffney rushed to the scene from a block away. So did Cal­i­for­nia Task Force 5, an Orange County ur­ban search-and- res­cue unit work­ing nearby.

They found Hollingsworth ly­ing on a stretcher on the street.

“ You could see his heart beat­ing through his chest, he was so ema­ci­ated,” says Peter Czuleger, 55, an emer­gency room doc­tor with the Orange County team. “ One of the guards­man said, ‘ He looks like he has AIDS.’ I said, no, this is what some­one l ooks l ike w h o h as n ot had food or­wa­ter for 10 days.”

Hollingsworth was un­re­spon­sive and had two pres­sure wounds — on his head from the cof­fee ta­ble and on his rib cage from his el­bow. The wounds in­di­cated that he had been in ex­actly the same po­si­tion for at least three days.

“ I thought he would not have made it an­other 24 hours in that house,” Czuleger says. “ He would surely have died that evening.”

Czuleger started an IV in a shrunken vein un­der Hollingsworth’s col­lar­bone. Aided by task force mem­bers, Ramos lifted him into an am­bu­lance, and he was taken to Och­sner Clinic, one of the few lo­cal hos­pi­tals still op­er­at­ing.

No­body knew who he was. But Gaffney and Fell went back to the house later. They found Edgar’s name on the back of a pic­ture on the wall, and Lil­lian’s name on some mail.

An iconic photo

The day af­ter the res­cue, Lil­lian and Wesley Hollingsworth heard from a rel­a­tive in Baker. Buy the news­pa­per, she told them.

Lil­lian stared in shock at the pic­ture of her hus­band on the front page of The ( Ba­ton Rouge) Ad­vo­cate. They called the news­pa­per and got the Cal­i­for­nia pho­tog­ra­pher’s name and phone num­ber. He told them where Edgar had been taken.

By that night they were on the phone with the doc­tor at the hospi­tal. Edgar was un­con­scious and on life sup­port, the doc­tor said, and he would keep him alive un­til they ar­rived. They rented a car the next day, drove the 120 miles to New Or­leans and sat with him for 20 min­utes be­fore he died.

The fam­ily was dev­as­tated but grate­ful. “ I was able to see him again with­out ( him) be­ing in a cas­ket,” Lil­lian says.

Edgar Hollingsworth had spent three years in the Army, state­side and in Ger­many. When his Na­tional Guard res­cuers learned he was a vet­eran, they ar­ranged for a me­mo­rial fund and a mil­i­tary funeral. Ramos, Brady and Ridge­way were pall­bear­ers. The mil­i­tary pres­ence com­forted Lil­lian Hollingsworth.

“ He was proud to have been a sol­dier,” she says of her hus­band. “ He al­ways talked about the Army. I just feel that it worked out the way he would have wanted it to.”

Later, Lil­lian would say she wished the city had forcibly re­moved peo­ple from their homes af­ter the storm.

Later, Richard Ven­tura, lo­gis­tics man­ager of Cal­i­for­nia Task Force 5, would talk about the frus­tra­tion and waste of search­ing a huge ur­ban area with­out go­ing into houses — and then hav­ing to search again, and again, to - nd those left be­hind. “ We want to do the right job the - rst time,” he says.

Later, Bruce Gaffney would spec­u­late about Edgar’s soli­tary last days, the ter­ror of not know­ing “ where the wa­ter’s go­ing to stop” or when the res­cuers would come. He would say the pho­to­graph sums up the larger tragedy of Ka­t­rina.

“Ev­ery­one failed the peo­ple,” Gaffney says. “ The sol­diers and the poor peo­ple had to bear the brunt of ev­ery­body else’s fail­ures.”

The pho­to­graph car­ried dif­fer­ent mean­ings for oth­ers. Ven­tura looked at it and saw racial har­mony: a black man cared for by a His­panic man as­sisted by two whites. Fell saw the Ka­t­rina re­lief re­sponse in mi­cro­cosm: paramedics, guards­men, dev­as­ta­tion and a ca­su­alty.

Ramos him­self, at the cen­ter of the pho­to­graph with an in­tense ex­pres­sion on his face, - xed on the 15-day gap be­tween the storm and the res­cue. The pic­ture, he says, “ shows the will to sur­vive. I know he didn’twant to die there.”

An un­cer­tain fu­ture

Lil­lian Hollingsworth is liv­ing at the Bon Carre apart­ments in Ba­ton Rouge with her son month to month, on a $500 lease. Rel­a­tives loaned them money to buy clothes for Edgar’s funeral. Money from the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency has gone for furniture and rent.

The pair has made sev­eral brief vis­its to her house in New Or­leans. They snapped pic­tures: ev­ery­thing wet, moldy, bro­ken and topsy- turvy.

“ It looked like a tor­nado was inside of the house,” Wesley says.

Wesley’s girl­friend has re­turned to New Or­leans and her job as a se­cu­rity guard. He was a city bus driver with only eight years un­til re­tire­ment. He is still wait­ing for news of his job.

His mother iswait­ing for doesn’t knowwhat.

“ I had had some D ood in­sur­ance. But that’s not enough to tear down and re­build an­other house,” she says. “ I’m too old to get in debt. I have no idea what I’m go­ing to do.”

Ul­ti­mately, Wesley’s fate will de­cide hers.

“ Some­times I say I want to go back, and some­times I don’t,” she says. “ But if my son goes back, well, I’m get­ting on in years, and I would like to be close by him so I have some­body to look af­ter me.”

Lil­lian Hollingsworth has a cousin in Ba­ton Rouge, but she doesn’t knowwhere he lives.

There’s nowhere to walk near her apart­ment, in a des­o­late part of town. She yearns for her grand­sons. They’ve lived next door to her all their lives. Now they are in Dal­las, where a bus took them af­ter the storm.

“ Ev­ery day I talk to t hem,” she says. “ They’ve ad­justed to Dal­las, but they like New Or­leans. They want to come back.”

Her fam­ily pic­tures — her hus­band in bet­ter days, the baby pic­tures and school pic­tures of her son and his sons — are stained with wa­ter and mud.

But she does have one un­dam­aged pho­to­graph of her grand­chil­dren, from Wesley’s apart­ment. It’s on her win­dowsill here, along with four small house­plants. . . . she

By Lori Waselchuk for USA TO­DAY

Wid­owed: Lil­lian Hollingsworth now lives in a sparse apart­ment in Ba­ton Rouge. Hollingsworth F ed her home in New Or­leans as Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina ap­proached. Her hus­band, Edgar, stayed be­hind.

Photo by Bruce Cham­bers, The Orange County (Calif.) Reg­is­ter

Dra­matic res­cue: This photo of Edgar Hollingsworth ran Sept. 14 in USA TO­DAY.

By Lori Waselchuk for USA TO­DAY

Not much left: Wesley Hollingsworth, who was driven to his par­ents’ New Or­leans home by a pho­tog­ra­pher work­ing for USA TO­DAY, re­trieves a few be­long­ings.

Fam­ily photo

Grand­fa­ther: Edgar Hollingsworth holds his eldest grand­child, Wesley Jr., in a photo taken about 20 years ago that­was found, stained and dam­aged, in his home. Edgar­was res­cued Sept. 13 and died two days later.

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