Omayra Sanchez

Omaira Sanchez by Frank FournierBehind the camera: Frank Fournier
Where: Armero, Colombia
Photo Summary: 13-year-old Omayra Sanchez trapped in debris caused by a mudslide following the eruption of a volcano in Colombia
Picture Taken: November 16, 1985

On November 13, 1985 there was the Volcanic Disaster at Galeras and Nevado Del Ruiz. Ash blanketed the surrounding areas including the town of Armero. The volcano also sent huge mudslides of volcanic ash that swept the countryside around the volcano burying towns and villages under meters of mud. One victim trapped in the carnage was Omayra Sanchez. She was photographed by Frank Fournier hours before her death. The photo won on to win the World Press Photo of The Year award, in 1986.

Before the photo

In the Sahtander district of Armero, Colombia Omayra Sanchez sat with her parents, her brother and an aunt, Maria Adela Garzón in their house wondering about the ash raining down. With a loud crash tons of volcanic ash and water, that had mixed together to create a thick mud, slammed into the town. When the mudslide hit the home of 13-year-old Omayra Sanchez it buried her up to her waist in concrete debris from her own home and submerged her up to her neck in freezing water. Due to lack of supplies, rescuers were unable to free her and for three days she sat in the water waiting for help. Reporters arrived and photographed her throughout her ordeal bravely giving interviews while people vainly tried to help her.

Taking the photo

Frank Fournier was sent to cover the eruption and he set out to report on the disaster travelling by car for five hours and then walking for two and a half hours before arriving on the scene. He remembers that

I reached the town of Ameroyo at dawn about three days after the explosion. I met a farmer who told me of this young girl who needed help. He took me to her, she was almost on her own at the time, just a few people around and some rescuers helping someone else a bit further away…
I could hear people screaming for help and then silence – an eerie silence. It was very haunting. There were a few helicopters, some that had been loaned by an oil company, trying to rescue people.
Then there was this little girl and people were powerless to help her. The rescuers kept coming back to her, local farmers and some people who had some medical aid. They tried to comfort her.
When I took the pictures I felt totally powerless in front of this little girl, who was facing death with courage and dignity. She could sense that her life was going.
By this stage, Omayra was drifting in and out of consciousness. She even asked me if I could take her to school because she was worried that she would be late.
I gave my film to some photographers who were going back to the airport and had them shipped back to my agent in Paris. Omayra died about three hours after I got there.


When Fournier’s Paris Match magazine published the photo a few days later it caused outrage when it was learned that Fournier didn’t or couldn’t help the girl. Called a vulture he welcomed the controversy as it drew attention to the disaster, and was quoted as saying:

I felt the story was important for me to report and I was happier that there was some reaction; it would have been worse if people had not cared about it…
I believe the photo helped raise money from around the world in aid and helped highlight the irresponsibility and lack of courage of the country’s leaders. There was an obvious lack of leadership.

Frank Fournier

Born in 1948 at Saint-Sever France Frank Fournier was the son of a surgeon and actually studied medicine for four years before becoming a photographer. He moved to America and in New York worked in the office of Contact Press Images for a few years before becoming a staff photographer in 1982. He won the 1986 World Press Photo award for his picture of Sanchez
Sanchez family

Her father was killed under the rubble of the house but her mother and brother were able to escape. Omayra’s mother commented, “I will live for my son, who only lost a finger.” She expressed her feelings about Omayra’s death. “It is horrible, but we have to think about the living.” The eruption killed around 25,000 people.

Other Famous pictures

Related Posts:

Killer Man

Behind the camera: CW4 Ruben Dominguez
Where: 75th Ranger Regiment
Photo Summary: Military poster
Picture Taken: 1985
This image is in the public domain because it was taken by a federal employee

I’m not the killer man…

This image although not world renowned in any sort of way is in fact iconic within a particular class. The United States Special Forces. Particularly the U.S. Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment. The 75th Ranger Regiment is now a special operations combat formation within the U.S. Army Special Operation Command (USASOC). The Ranger Regiment traces its lineage to three of six battalions raised in WWII, and to the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional)—known as “Merrill’s Marauders,” and then redesignated as the 475th Infantry, then later as the 75th Infantry. The 61 day Ranger school/leadership course, located at Fort Benning Georgia, is notoriously difficult often boasting a 70-80% attrition rate. The course emphasizes leadership and small unit tactics.

The Poster

The Poster of “I’m not the Killer man…” was commissioned in 1985 by the then Regimental Commander, Colonel Joseph “Smoking Joe” Stringham. It was originally thought of as an incentive or bonus that a soldier would get upon joining the Ranger unit. Each poster would be signed by the Regimental Commander, the Deputy Commander and the Regimental Sergeant Major.
Colonel Stringham then went to the Fort Benning TASC (Training and Audio Visual Support Center) office to place an order to have the poster printed. However, TASC, for whatever reason, told him that they couldn’t print the poster. Colonel Stringham then flew TDY (Temporary Duty) to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and spoke to the 4th Psychological Operations (4th PSYOPS) mobile printing press who ended up printing 3000 copies of the poster for the Colonel.
The posters remained on display within Ranger offices and in the barracks, with the original poster, drawn on butcher block paper, in the Regimental Ranger Headquarters until the next Regimental Commander, Colonel Taylor, took command. He thought the poster displayed a negative image of the U.S. Army Rangers and all Regimental Rangers were then required to take down the posters.

The Poster’s Concept and Inception

The “Killer Man” Poster as it has come to be called was designed and drawn by now retired CW4 Ruben Dominguez. Dominguez had spent four years in the United States Marine Corps in the infantry (0311) and as a small arms repair man (2111). He had left the USMC in 1984 and joined the Army principally because he wanted to be a paratrooper, and was picked up by the Ranger Regiment as an Infantryman (11B)/Draftsman due to his architectural background.
According to his recount of the genesis of the “Killer Man” Poster: “It was a weekend and I was frustrated. Drawing being one of my past times, I commenced to take out my frustration on paper. I began drawing the Ranger in a Captain America stance and modified it to reflect the Ranger holding the Ranger Crest Shield. It was my concept of what a Ranger is…an individual that takes up more of the share than others do, i.e. the large ruck sack with all the tools a warrior lives by…..armed to the hilt. Instead of the M-16, he holds the M-60 Machinegun. Being an avid admirer of the Ghurkas of Nepal and their honorable history, I drew him holding a “Kukri” knife. And considering that I personally believe that the United States flag is by far the most beautiful flag on this earth, I expressed my patriotism by drawing the American flags behind the Ranger as he charges forward into battle.”
While Dominguez was in his office sketchy the image out, Command Sergeant Major Cobb came in and made it clear that “That’s it! That’s what the old man wants!” He was referring to Colonel Stringham and his desire for a motivating and aggressive poster depicting his ideal Ranger Warrior.
A brief discussion then ensued in which CSM Cobb decide the poster needed a slogan. The following words would be printed across the top and bottom of the poster, and would come to be something of a mantra in the Ranger community.
“I’m not the Killer man, I’m the Killer man’s son, But I’ll do the Killing till the Killer man comes.”
This was a direct quote from then President of the United States, Ronald Reagan.

CW4 Dominguez

As the Rangers Regimental Draftsman, Dominguez had been responsible for streamlining the Ranger scroll design to ensure uniformity across the Ranger Regiment and Ranger Battalions. All uniformity guidelines i.e. diagrams of how the Ranger beret should be worn etc, were all his responsibility. In 1987 Dominguez left the Ranger Regiment and the Infantry and joined Counterintelligence. He retired in 2010 and currently works as a civilian/military contractor.

Pictures from other Wars

Related Posts: