A retiring fire captain removed decades-old photos of a young 1944 fire victim from the walls of Hartford’s Engine 14 and burned them in his fireplace at home because he disagreed with having the deceased girl’s image “publicly displaced in this horrific manner,” according to sources within the department.
The images in question are of an 8-year-old, identified as Eleanor Cook, one of more than 167 people who died in the massive tent fire at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in July 1944.
Eleanor’s case was shrouded in mystery as investigators worked for decades to match the little girl’s name to her face.
In an email obtained by the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters, Capt. William Pond explained his actions to Hartford Fire Chief Carlos Huertas.
“When originally assigned to engine 14 in the summer of 1990 I objected to the naked deceased pictures of Eleanor Cook displayed in the hallway. I objected verbally to every house Captain through my career where my efforts proved fruitless. My first order of business as house Captain was to remove them from display,” he allegedly wrote in the email.
Pond went on to say he worried that someone would hang the photos back up after he retired, “where this poor girls [sic] soul would never rest,” according to the email.
“I removed them today and at my home prayed for peace for Eleanor and burned them in my fireplace. I hope you understand and also the Cook family had no knowledge that there [sic] loved one was publicly displayed in this horrific manor [sic],” Pond allegedly wrote.
Huertas addressed the situation in a statement on Thursday, saying Pond “exercised poor judgment in removing the photos.”
“He has demonstrated a lack of professionalism in his decision to take matters in to his own hands and circumvented the process put forth to better handle the situation,” Huertas wrote.
He added that the photos turned out to be copies with “no intrinsic value,” but said an investigation is ongoing.
Seven hundred people were also injured in the fire, which is remembered as one of the worst fires in United States history.