Photo Of The Day

Jan Grarup

Jan Grarup

Fabienne Cherisma

?This is 15 Year old Fabienne Cherisma, Shot dead by a Policeman after looting three picture frames days after the Haiti earthquake struck in Port-au-Prince.

Fourteen photographers stood over the body of Fabienne?Cherisma, just moments after she had been shot by police?on January 19, 2010, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. As?they adjusted camera settings and framed images of the?young girl?s corpse, looters went through her pockets to?steal what they could before her father arrived. Haiti?s?massive earthquake had taken tens of thousands of lives?that January, but the pictures of Fabienne struck a chord:?she became an icon of Haiti?s desperation, and two of the?photographers were awarded prizes for their work. Two?months after the incident, photojournalist Nathan Weber?released an image he?d originally taken as ?an afterthought.??It showed his colleagues at work, photographing?Fabienne?s body.

By the time the picture was released, the flood?of graphic images from Haiti?s catastrophe had become?increasingly unsettling for its audience. Brendan?Gormley, chief executive of the UK Disasters Emergency?Committee, had spoken out against ?disaster pornography?:?gratuitous images of suffering. And Haitians had?begun stoning photojournalists in protest, according to?UK aid worker Ishbel Matheson. ?People said we looked?like a bunch of vultures,? says Weber.

Even though grouping?together is common for photographers in dangerous?situations, many in the international photo-journalist?community were unhappy with having ?their laundry?aired in public.? Still, Weber insists there is nothing to be?ashamed of: ?This is how people find out about things.?You can only see the image that we let you see. If it wasn?t?for people going out and getting that photograph then?we?d all be in the dark.?

Fabienne Cherisma spent her life assessing margins. She was just 15 but had a knack for knowing what would sell on the ?family’s knick-knack stall, and for how much. In Port-au-Prince’s raucous, ?hardscrabble market it was a gift that helped keep her parents and five siblings on the right side of the survival line.

“My daughter was a sales lady. A good one,” said her father, Osam. “Whatever she bought she was always able to sell it on for a bit more.” A few cents extra profit meant an extra spoon of rice for dinner in the family’s one-room shack.

His daughter spent mornings in stores and other markets hunting bargains ? pots, soap, combs, zips, bras ? and then hawked them with a mark-up from the family’s patch of concrete near Grand Rue, an open-air market where traders shout over the throb of generators and flies hover over steaming garbage.

Fabienne spent her afternoons at school, excelling at math?s, French and science. “She was very intelligent,” Osam said. “Her head was full of knowledge.” Despite her nose for commerce her ?ambition was to become a nurse.

Haiti’s 12 January earthquake changed Fabienne’s usual calculations. The family home escaped unscathed, and within days the market resumed, but mobs were ?looting nearby stores. Human ant-trails carrying food, electrical goods and ?furniture passed her stall.

Amid the devastation, Fabienne spotted an opportunity, and last Tuesday she joined the throng. Most looters were male but the girl in the pink mini-skirt emerged from the melee with two plastic chairs and three framed pictures.

She was scrambling back over collapsed rooftops, just a few streets from her stall, when police in fluorescent yellow vests began shooting in the air. A bullet to the head felled Fabienne. She collapsed on to one of the paintings, blood trickling from the wound.

“People ran past saying a little girl was shot. My girl,” said her father. He ran to the scene. His daughter was dead. Someone had gone through her pockets. The chairs she had carried had disappeared.

He had not picked up Fabienne up since she was a toddler, but Osam, lean and muscular like most Haitian men, swung her body over his shoulder and took her home. His wife, Amante, ?collapsed. Just?days earlier the family had celebrated surviving the quake but now death had visited after all. “She was my baby,” she said.

It was unclear whether police, who have executed looters, intentionally shot the girl. Her family said the shooting was deliberate and that three head wounds proved she was shot twice more at point blank range.

That claim was impossible to verify. When asked, police in the area shrugged and said they knew nothing. “It’s not like its easy keeping track of bodies,” said one sergeant. Osam insisted his daughter was no looter that she set out with $70 (?43) ? the family’s entire cash reserve ? to buy chairs, having estimated she could sell them for $75. The framed pictures must have been a spontaneous purchase. If so she would have been a lone shopper amid a tumult of scavengers.

With morgues overflowing, and earthquake fatalities being bulldozed into mass graves, the Cherismas took their ?daughter’s body out of the city. With a borrowed $70 they rented a private bus, and drove for four hours to relatives in Zorange. They buried her in a Catholic ceremony and placed a white cross over the grave.

In Port-au-Prince there are few ?mementoes of the teenager’s ?existence: a pair of grubby white training shoes; a brown school uniform in a red bucket which serves as a chair, table and container.

The one photo of her, in which she smiles, is lost. So is her?birth certificate. The family thinks the hospital which recorded her birth was destroyed. There is no police investigation and the death is not registered. Officially, it is as if the teenager never was.

The question is not whether Fabienne will be remembered as a victim of the earthquake but whether, outside her family, she will be remembered at all.

Her sister Amanda, 13, more shy and withdrawn, said she would miss ?Fabienne’s jokes, banter with customers, and advice on what to charge: “She said you have to know what is not too little, not too much. You have to get it just right.”

Debate Over Fabienne Cherisma Photos Rekindled After Award Given