Nicholas Simmons disappeared on New Year’s Day from his parents' house in Greece, a small upstate New York community near Rochester, leaving behind his wallet and cell phone. Days later, when the 20-year-old didn’t return, his relatives launched a desperate search for him by contacting local media and making posts on Facebook.
According to a story reported on Monday from The Associated Press, Paul and Michelle Simmons read an article about the frigid temps and saw an AP photo of a homeless man warming himself on a steam grate in Washington, just a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol.
It was their son, who had been missing for four days.
The picture was in a USA Today news report, and was picked up by the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. When the Simmons saw their son in the morning paper, huddled with other homeless men and trying to get warm in subzero temps, their hearts just melted.
“God took that photo, God made us find him... It could have been months before we had a lead on his whereabouts. My baby looks so lost and I will be spending the rest of my life making him well,” Michelle said.
The Simmons contacted local police, who then got in touch with authorities from Washington. Simmons was located and taken to George Washington University Hospital to be checked out.
“Nick is alive but obviously not well,” his mother said in a Facebook post. “We are going to get him home and 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.”
The photo was taken by Jacquelyn Martin, a photographer with the Associated Press. Even for Martin, the reunion was heartwarming.
“It struck me how young he was,” Martin said. “I again introduced myself and shook his hand. He said his name was Nick.”
Martin said the chance encounter reinforces to her, and to every journalist, that there are individual stories behind the people and faces they photograph.
“It's really gratifying to see that a photograph can make a tangible difference in someone's life. That's a really amazing thing to have happened,” she said. “I'm happy and touched that the photograph could help reunite this family.”
It's unclear under what circumstances Simmons left home, but the family is overwhelmed that they located him.
“It was pure dumb luck how all this happened,” said Sgt. David Mancuso, the lead investigator. “It's truly a miracle.”