‘Viral’ photo has Synod connection

Deputy Rick Johnson of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office carries Joel, 4, and Skylar, 2, through floodwaters outside their home in Cypress, Texas, Aug. 27. The photo — shown repeatedly on national news and morning TV shows — went viral when numerous Facebook and Twitter users also shared it as a symbol of racial harmony. (Harris County Sheriff’s Office)

By Paula Schlueter Ross (paula.ross@lcms.org)

With all the media coverage of Hurricane Harvey, you’ve probably seen it: that photo of the African-American deputy carrying two white children — one cradled in each arm — across thigh-high floodwaters in a Houston suburb.

The picture — shown repeatedly on national news and morning TV shows — went viral when numerous Facebook and Twitter users shared it.

What you may not know is that the photo has a Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod connection: the children’s father, Brett Barrett, is a nephew of the Rev. John R. Hopkins, senior pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, an LCMS congregation in Hicksville, N.Y.

Barrett told Reporter he’s surprised every time the photo pops up on TV. And he’s even more surprised at how people have reacted to the photo: as a symbol of black-white harmony in a nation of smoldering racial tensions.

Among social-media comments about the photo, “Julia” posted on Aug. 29: “I won’t say this is a picture of the ‘real America’ because, unfortunately, hate and bigotry are entrenched parts of real America. But everything about this photo is my America.”

Barrett said he “wasn’t even thinking about” that angle when he first saw the photo: “I just see a deputy who came to help out.”

That sentiment is shared by his uncle, Pastor Hopkins, and Deputy Rick Johnson of the Harris (Texas) County Sheriff’s Office, who is carrying Barrett’s children in the photo.

“It was just me doing my job, helping out,” Johnson told ABC News.

The photo was taken the morning of Sunday, Aug. 27, when Barrett’s home had 2 to 3 inches of water inside and the floodwaters had reached a height of 4 feet in the yard.

Cradling Joel, 4, and Skylar, 2, Johnson waded through the water some 50 feet to a waiting rescue truck. He was followed by Barrett’s wife, Nicole, carrying 4-month-old Parker; another deputy with several bags of clothing, toiletries and other items quickly packed by the family; and finally, Barrett, with the family’s Australian Shepherd-Labrador mix, 50-pound “Penny,” in his arms.

Stocked with plenty of food and water, the family had been planning to hunker down during the hurricane — like they’d done in previous storms — but “once water started coming in our house, we didn’t want to be there anymore,” Barrett recalls. The home had never flooded before.

He says he’s grateful for:

  • Johnson, who was joking with the kids, “trying to make it fun for them,” as they made their way to safety.
  • friends who took them in when they left their flooded home.
  • relatives who are leading the cleanup and refurbishing effort, even starting a “Go Fund Me” account to help meet the expected $10,000 in damages not covered by insurance. The family hopes to be back in their house in October.

Barrett says he is most thankful to God, who he’s certain played a role in the “blessings,” including the fact that the middle-of-the-night measures he and his wife took to safeguard furniture (such as putting table and chair legs inside plastic cups, and elevating furniture atop bricks) actually worked. They didn’t lose anything they needed to save, he notes.

“I really have seen God in all the people that have come out to support us,” he says: from the deputy who came to help, to the family who took them in, to relatives, to all the people from his church and work who came to help with cleanup.

The beauty of the response in the midst of heartache, he adds, “just really shines through.”

Posted Sept. 21, 2017

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The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Content is prepared by LCMS Communications.

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