Behind the lens: Young girl turns pebbles into American flag at Inauguration

Bill Clinton’s photobomb is great, as were Michelle Obama’s eye-rolling and Vice President Biden’s parade face, but one of the best viral photos from Monday’s inauguration occurred far from the public eye.

NBC News’ Anthony Quintano was cruising around the Capitol Reflecting Pool before Monday’s inauguration ceremony when he saw 8-year-old Cassie Ibata making a flag out of pebbles in the gravel. He snapped a photo with his iPhone. “I asked her right away, ‘Why’d you do this?’ ” Quintano said by phone. “Her mother responded for her and said she was waiting for the president so she just started doing it.”

Courtesy Anthony Quintano/NBC News


Quintano posted his photo of Cassie’s flag on his own Twitter account because NBC News had started reporting President Obama had arrived at the Capitol. “I didn’t want to compete with that,” he said. He put the picture up on his Facebook page too, which is where he thinks someone from Reddit found it. “I hate to say it, but I don’t normally post to Reddit because I feel like I jinx myself,” Quintano says. “It never takes off.”

8-year-old Cassie Ibata (Photo by Anthony Quintano)

He posted another photo of Cassie on NBC News’ Instagram account — despite complaints from inauguration attendees in the cheap seats (OK, my wife and I) that they couldn’t share photos on Instagram while standing on the Mall, Quintano thinks he was able to post because two mobile cell towers were nearby.

Cassie’s father, Brent Ibata, is a clinical researcher in Virginia Beach, Va. He said by phone that Cassie was “just drawing in the dirt” Monday morning and noticed there were three different-colored pebbles. The family had been at the Mall since 7 a.m., he said. No reporters had been in touch with him before Poynter called, but the “Today Show” retweeted Quintano’s picture. “We showed her the picture and we told her it’s getting popular, but to an 8-year-old it being on my phone is cool enough,” Ibata said.

The family plays a drawing game at restaurants called “Where’s the Same?” in which they have to draw something they see in the room, but Cassie was “just entertaining herself” this time, he said. She took home some of the pebbles in a plastic bag. “We call her our fossil hunter,” Annette Ibata, Cassie’s mom, said. Six other news outlets took photos of Cassie’s flag, Ibata said, though she hasn’t seen the story appear in any other outlets.

After one person on Twitter doubted Cassie had made the flag spontaneously, Ibata said she decided to respond: “Let’s say something silly,” she said to Brent.

Ibata said she was fascinated to read the comments on the photo on Reddit, all these people “desperately digging all these meanings out of the picture,” she said. Cassie doesn’t watch TV and “the media’s not pouring into her cranium,” she said. “We go out and do things.” The family requested tickets to the inauguration last week by emailing U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine’s office; they were amazed to receive them.

Quintano said he got into social media in 2010 via a photo he took of the fuselage from U.S. Airways Flight 1549 being towed on a New Jersey road. He’s now Senior Community Manager for NBC News.

On Monday, he bolted from the Capitol grounds right after Obama took the oath of office so he could get to the parade route. “I’m always trying to think of the next step,” he said. “I’m never stuck in any particular moment.”

Still, he captured a pretty nice one.

Related: 13-year-old Ethan Sattler was the youngest member of the inauguration press corps (WSJ)

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