It’s believed at least eight people have died as a result of this month’s historic flooding on Colorado’s Front Range. Among those missing is a woman in Larimer County who was washed away in the raging waters. The woman’s son was able to salvage one piece of family history after a friend saw a report on CBS4.

LOVELAND, Colo. (CBS4) – The story of how an old family portrait found its way back to flood victim Evelyn Starner’s family is remarkable.

It started among the debris in the muddy waters of the Big Thompson River. A photograph showing the faces of a smiling family floated to the surface, and the story that unfolded is heartbreaking.

“The events that caused this to come back to me were just amazing to say the least,” Evelyn’s son Shawn Starner told CBS4 while holding the photograph.

Shawn Starner looks at his family portrait after it was retrieved by a stranger in the Big Thompson River (credit: CBS)

Shawn Starner looks at his family portrait after it was retrieved by a stranger from the Big Thompson River (credit: CBS)

The family photo once hung inside the Starner home, which sat next to the river in Big Thompson Canyon.

On Friday morning the flood in the Big Thompson Canyon swallowed the Starner’s home, where Evelyn still lived.

“The last time I talked to my mom she said ‘We should be fine,’ ” Shawn said.

But what was described as a “wall of water” ended up hitting the house.

“Apparently (it broke) my mom’s back, causing her to be immobilized,” Shawn said. “So Joyce tried to help her, she tried to get her up the bank.”

After struggling to save Evelyn, Joyce — the Starner’s neighbor — had to let her go.

“But my mom told her, ‘Don’t worry about me, save yourself.’ And that’s pretty much all we actually know about it,” Shawn said.

Downstream in Loveland, Deb Donovan and her family plucked a family portrait out of the river.

“We were over here watching the river, seeing it all come down, and another lady pointed out that she saw this little piece of what looked liked a family portrait,” Donovan said. “I just hope somehow we can get this to the family.”

Shawn got a message from an old friend who saw the photo on CBS4 News. The portrait was returned to the Starner family only hours after learning their mother was swept away with her home (and is now one of the two people in Larimer County presumed dead).

He pointed out his mother and brother Eric in the photo to CBS4’s Nina Sparano.

“This is my mother, first of all, her name is Evelyn … and this is me in the back, and this is my brother, Eric,” Shawn told Sparano.

According to Shawn, the photo is the only thing left of their home and of their mother, and he’s grateful to get it back.

“So when I got it I set it on my lap and I snapped a picture of it so I won’t lose it again,” an emotional Shawn said.

Of the tons of debris rushing down the river from the hundreds of homes lost in the flood, the Starner family knows the odds of getting a piece of family history back was nothing short of a miracle.

“It had to go at least 10, 12 miles; and it’s only missing a corner. Somebody was watching out for it … I feel it’s a sign. I feel it’s a sign that my mom was okay with what happened and she’s like, ‘I’m doing fine, I’m okay now.’ ”

CBS4 contacted both the Red Cross and the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office and neither have the ability to handle personal effects at this time. The sheriff’s office said they will start looking into the matter.

Colorado Floods: How To Help

The recent floods are impacting families and communities throughout Colorado, so CBS4 has compiled a list of ways you can support the local communities impacted by the floods.


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