Las Vegas Sun

October 17, 2019

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Flag-waving child becomes a celebrity

With one snap of his camera's shutter Las Vegas Sun photographer Ethan Miller captured the emotions of a nation the day following the terrorist attacks that killed thousands of people in New York and Washington, D.C.

Sitting on her father's shoulders above a crowd of adults whose downcast eyes emphasized their dismay over the horrendous acts, Alana Milawski, 3, stretched her arms wide, waved the American flag and lifted her eyes skyward as if beseeching the help of a higher power.

Miller was on a photo assignment at the Thomas & Mack Center when he saw the little girl. A candlelight vigil was being held at the center's amphitheater. More than 2,000 people had turned out to express their sorrow.

"So many people were there that they were all mashed together," Miller recalled. "I was having trouble getting a good photo so I got up onstage and could see out into this sea of people.

"Then I saw the little girl on top of her dad's shoulders, waving the flag. Some American flags behind her were waving, and I knew it would make a great shot if I could pull it off."

Alana was at the vigil with her parents, Craig and Kathleen, and her 8-year-old sister, Marissa.

"It was my husband and my ninth wedding anniversary," Kathleen Milawski said. "We were going to go out to dinner when we heard about (the vigil) and scratched our plans. We decided to take the kids to pray."

Miller said he had taken numerous photographs of different people since the event began at sunset. But this one, he said he knew, was going to be special.

"There was that one moment when she lifted her other hand and then the flag unfurled -- I got one frame off as she did that, and that was the photo. The little girl looked up at the same time that she raised her hand and her eyes caught the light.

"All of these sad adults were around her, and she looked so innocent."

The photo was taken on Sept. 12. The day after that it appeared in the Sun, and the day after that it began a trip around the world.

The picture of Alana has appeared in countless publications. It is the cover of a special issue of Newsweek magazine, which is currently on sale.

Miller said that since the photograph was picked up by the Reuters wire service, he has had requests for reprints from all over the world.

"It ended up in Switzerland, Germany and London," he said. "The London Daily Sun published a full page picure as a cover. They interviewed the girl.

"A photographer I know in Hong Kong saw it there. I have never had a response to a photo quite like this, certainly not the number of responses, especially emotional responses."

Alana has taken her fame in stride.

"Kids come up to her and say, 'You're famous,' " Kathleen said. "She just walks away."

The family was at a McDonald's a few days after picture appeared. Alana had collected all of the coins at home and was putting them into a donation box at the restaurant when other customers recognized her and gave her their change, and she put that in the box.

"She was there about 20 minutes putting coins in the box," Kathleen said.

Kathleen said she and her husband have talked to their children about the terroristic act.

"Alana understands what happened. She knows a lot of people were hurt."