Photographer captures family photos hours before deadly crash in Ohio

A photographer shares some of the last photos taken of the Michael-Brown family together before Saturday night's deadly crash in Clinton Township.
Published: Mar. 29, 2022 at 7:19 AM CDT|Updated: Mar. 29, 2022 at 10:26 AM CDT
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CLINTON TOWNSHIP, Ohio (WTVG/Gray News) - A photographer is sharing her reaction after capturing some of the final moments of a family of five together just hours before the crash that would end their lives.

Rhae Harris, 45, is the owner of Rhae Rose Photography in Delta, Ohio, and specializes in family, newborn and pinup-style photo shoots, WTVG reported.

“I always notice special things about each and every client or family that comes to work with me,” said Harris. “A lot of the time, they leave a lasting impression on me.”

That was the case on Saturday while photographing the Michael - Brown family for an Easter-themed session.

“When I met this family Saturday afternoon, they were so happy and full of love and joy,” explained Harris.

She captured photos of Muriel Michael, 28, and her fiancé, Xavier Brown, 25, both from Wauseon.

“I had such a fun time photographing this family,” said Harris. “Muriel and Xavier were clearly in love. Their happiness definitely came shining through in their photos.”

She also photographed the couple’s 1-year-old son, Riggs Brown, who Harris described as well-behaved.

“He was so happy,” Harris said. “He smiled on cue and even said ‘Cheese’ a few times!”

Harris said Michael’s other two children, Aurora Michael‚ 7, and Deklin Jankowski, 9, were also part of the photo shoot, adding that Deklin was “so adorable” and was the “clear helper and protector,” and that Aurora was a “delight” flashing a toothy-grin.

“With missing teeth and her happy smile, it was hard not to be drawn to her,” she said.

Harris said this was the first of several photo shoots she and Michael had planned before the couple’s upcoming wedding.

“She was so excited for their wedding and their future together as a family,” said Harris. “I was just as excited to be a part of it with them. I never could’ve imagined what would come next.”

Nearly 10 hours after those photos were taken, a tragedy occurred when the Michael - Brown family was involved in a car crash Saturday night in Clinton Township.

According to the Ohio State Highway Patrol, Michael was driving on County Road 14 in Clinton Township about 11:48 p.m., with Brown riding passenger and the three children in the back seat, when they were struck by a vehicle traveling on County Road H.

Authorities said a 21-year-old was behind the wheel and failed to yield for a stop sign. That driver was treated for minor injuries.

Brown and Deklin were pronounced dead at the scene.

The other two children were air-lifted to the Mercy Health St. Vincent Medical Center, where they later died.

Their mother was also airlifted to the hospital with serious injuries and died Monday night, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

At this time, no charges have been filed, and Sgt. Ryan Purpura of the Ohio State Highway Patrol said the incident remains under investigation.

Purpura added that not all occupants involved were wearing seat belts at the time of the crash. However, he did not specify who.

“It’s a tragic reminder of what can happen behind the wheel,” he said. “It’s a reminder to make sure you wear a seat belt and any kind of measures you can do yourself behind the wheel to make sure you are safe.”

Harris, who learned about the tragedy Sunday morning, posted the family’s photos on Facebook with a touching tribute that has since received thousands of shares.

“I made my post because I just felt like it was the only thing I could do at the time to help,” Harris explained. “Sharing my experience with this family was my way of dealing with how I was feeling, and I just wanted my clients to know how important they are to me. "

She now hopes the photos she captured of the Michael - Brown family, just hours before the fatal crash, serve as happy memories for the loved ones they leave behind.

“My heart goes out to the family and friends of this family,” she said. “I just feel honored to have been able to capture these beautiful memories for them to cherish forever.”

A GoFundMe account was created to help support the family with a goal of raising $5,000. As of Monday, it received more than $24,000 in donations.

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