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'That's me in the picture': A shared hug amid grief; sadness at end of search captured in 2009 photo

The Forum continues its series called "That's me in the picture." We identified memorable photos we've published over the years and tried to catch up with people in them, whether the main subject or a bystander. We wanted to know what they've bee...

Fargo City Commissioner Mike Williams embraces KFGO radio reporter Paul Leintz in 2009 after learning Williams-Jaffe’s body was found in the Red River. The efforts of the searchers were heroic, Williams said, and finding his sister’s body gave his family closure

The Forum continues its series called “That’s me in the picture.”
We identified memorable photos we’ve published over the years and tried to catch up with people in them, whether the main subject or a bystander. We wanted to know what they’ve been up to since the picture was first taken.
We will run a series story each day through New Year’s Day and then occasionally after that. If you have suggestions for memorable Forum photos you’d like to see us follow up on, email us at news@forumcomm.com , putting “That’s me in the picture” in the subject line.

Fargo - Mike Williams stood heartbroken by the banks of the frozen Red River on Feb. 6, 2009, after learning the body of his sister had been found under the ice.
A little more than a week before, Laura Williams-Jaffe had left her apartment, walked out onto the ice by the midtown dam – near where she, Mike and the rest of their siblings had played as children – and drowned in the Red.
With grief carved on Williams’ face, he and KFGO radio traffic reporter Paul Leintz hugged – a moment in time caught by Forum photographer Dave Samson.
It was a day of heartbreak, tears and closure.
“There was a great outpouring of support through while we were looking for her and when we found her. That’s another reason we love this place,” said Williams, a Fargo city commissioner.
“I’m the youngest of 10 kids. She was the next youngest, but always my big sister,” Williams said.
He said his sister had been in a lot of pain.
Family encouraged Williams-Jaffe to return to Fargo to rebuild her life after a divorce. Then she broke her back in a car crash.
“She was in a tough state from the breakup and then she had a car accident that broke her back and so she was in a lot of pain,” Williams said.
The efforts of the searchers were heroic, he said.
“I mean the effort that the Red River Valley Water Rescue, the firemen and Salvation Army and the city, if you remember, that was in 2009, and this was before the flood, but we had a ton of snow,” Williams said.
“And they didn’t know if she went into the river for sure. There were some tracks that made it look like she may have, but it was a cold day, and there must have been 40 firemen out there drilling holes, and the water rescue was doing their thing, looking with their sonar and sending in their fiber (optic cameras), and the Salvation Army was taking care of the family, setting up a tent.
“As hard as it was to find her the way we did, at the same time, it was just so amazing that so many people in the community had reached out to help us,” Williams said. “It just makes you realize how fortunate we are to live here.”
Williams knew Leintz as the guy who worked the audio boards during interviews at KFGO. Leintz was shooting video for KFGO’s website after Williams-Jaffe’s body was found.
“Working over at KFGO, I had seen Mike quite a bit, and we had sort of become friends,” Leintz said.
“He (Williams) just came up and wrapped his arms around me. I can’t imagine what he was going through,” he said. “It was a special moment. I’m glad to call him friend. We weren’t just media [and] politician at that time. We were friends, then.”
Williams said finding his sister’s body gave his family closure.
“Not knowing is the hardest part,” he said. “You can imagine, if we hadn’t found her, with that flood (in 2009), they’d have never found her. And then you’d just never know. We’d have never known if she had just run away or what. So having that finality was really a blessing. It wasn’t the outcome you wanted, but we’re confident that she’s in heaven and watching over us.”
Williams said that after the search ended, family members made contributions to Valley Water Rescue, the Salvation Army and to Earle “Bud” Myers, the owner of the search bloodhound, Barnaby.
“Bud got a puppy after that, and named it Laura, after our sister,” Williams said, his voice thick with emotion. And Laura now searches for others who are missing.
“We grew up by that river” and it was our “stomping grounds,” Williams said.
“She is still watching over us. It just reinforces my faith, just knowing she’s happy.”

Fargo City Commissioner Mike Williams holds a photograph of his sister Laura Williams-Jaffe.

Helmut Schmidt is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's business news team. Readers can reach him by email at hschmidt@forumcomm.com, or by calling (701) 241-5583.
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