This photo of Nicholas A. Simmons, 20, was taken in Washington, D.C.–almost 400 miles from his home in Rochester, New York. When his family saw the photo in the Rochester edition of USA Today on Sunday, they reached out to the author of the story, contacted local police, and began to spread the word on Facebook in hopes of being reunited.
It all began with an Associated Press photo that ran with coverage of the cold weather. The caption read “Nick warms himself on a steam grate with other homeless men Saturday, just blocks from the U.S. Capitol.” Prior to the photograph, Simmons was last seen on Wednesday near his home in Greece, a suburb of Rochester.
When Simmons’ sister, Hannah recognized her brother in the photo, she reached out to Natalie DiBlasio, the story’s author. Hannah tweeted DiBlasio, “please contact me. you wrote an article for USA today that features a picture of my missing brother.” That tweet eventually helped her family find Nick.
It didn’t take long for DiBlasio to reach out to AP photographer Jacquelyn Martin, who snapped the photograph. Martin said he was with a group of homeless men huddled together.
“I introduced myself and shook his hand and he would only say that his name was ‘Nick,’” she recalled. “I told him that if I could write his whole name in the photo sometimes it could help him connect with family and he said, ‘No, I’m OK, but you can just write that my name is Nick.’”
Martin helped Nick’s mom, Michelle Simmons, guide family friends Peter and Cindy Gugino to the location of the photo. The three of them found Nick and local police picked him up. According to a press release from the police, “Simmons was taken to George Washington University Hospital as a precaution.”
In the hours before finding him, family and friends began posting to Facebook. The photo created some buzz on the social media site and Michelle posted a message to loved ones. “Nick is alive and obviously not well, ” she wrote. “(We) are going to get him home safe and this is by far the greatest example of God’s love and divine intervention I have ever experienced. I am beyond able to put into words how I am feeling.”
Nick was reunited with his father and brother at the hospital. “It was pure dumb luck how all this happened,” Greece police Sgt. and lead investigator David Mancuso told AP. “It’s truly a miracle.”