JEFFERSON PARK — Fred Nettnin was rushing out the door to work when a flash of color on a pile of leaves in his front yard caught his eye, reminding him he had fallen behind on his yard work.
Worried he would be late, Nettnin, who works in printing and graphic design, figured he would rake the leaves in the yard of his Jefferson Park home near Nagle Avenue and the Kennedy Expressway when he got home.
But his wife, Dawn, noticed the flash of color, too, and discovered a torn and battered photo of a blonde little girl smiling on a backyard swing. She brought it inside, and Nettnin began trying to figure out who it belonged to.
"It was pretty beat up," said Fred Nettnin, who has two daughters. "At first, I thought it might have blown out of our neighbor's garbage can, but then I started thinking it may have blown away in the tornado."
Six people were killed when tornadoes swept across Central and Southern Illinois Nov. 17, causing widespread destruction.
Nettnin scanned the picture and posted the photo on Reddit and on Facebook, where a friend urged him to post it on one of the dozens of pages and groups formed in an effort to reunite victims of the tornado with pictures and other mementos that had blown away in the storm.
"Within hours, a woman from Washington, Ill., messaged me to say that the picture was of her daughter," Nettnin said. "It is crazy to think that this photo traveled 150 miles and landed on my doorstep."
The photo is of Abby Lou Brennan, whose family's home was leveled in the tornado that touched down in Washington, Brennan said. Sustained winds of 170 to 190 mph battered the town near Peoria and killed one man, authorities said.
Nearly two dozen of Brennan's family's photos and keepsakes — including one of her report cards from grade school — have been found in the Chicago area, she said.
"Most of them are dirty or have small tears in them and such, but just to get it back, it's one more thing that we can say is ours," Brennan said. "Right now that list is pretty short, so every little bit counts."
The trouble that so many people have gone to return photos and other items to families like her own means a lot, Brennan said, adding that she has asked family and friends eager to help to keep scanning Facebook for pictures of her family.
"I think once this is all over and we've found a new normal, we'll do some sort of collage or art piece with all the pictures and things that have been returned," Brennan said. "It'll be a huge thank you to everyone that sent us a photo back, and it will definitely be therapeutic for us."
Although her house was destroyed, Brennan said her family was unhurt, and her two cats survived the massive storm.
"Just hearing about what her family has been through is gut-wrenching," Nettnin said. "I'm so glad the technology exists that made it possible for me to get this photo back to them. I hope it brightens up their day."