'Cold snap' reunites missing man
A man who went missing on New Year's Day has been reunited with his family after his parents saw a newspaper picture of him warming himself on a steam grate in freezing Washington DC.
Nick Simmons disappeared from his parents' house in upstate New York, leaving behind his wallet, mobile phone and everything else.
Four days later, Associated Press photographer Jacquelyn Martin, looking for a way to illustrate unusually cold weather, took his picture as he warmed himself onthe grate a few streets from the US Capitol.
Paul and Michelle Simmons saw the photograph, published in USA Today yesterday, after it was brought to their attention through a Facebook page set up to help find their 20-year-old son.
Mrs Simmons expressed her relief on Facebook shortly after her son was located.
"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," she said.
The photo showed Mr Simmons with his unshaven face pressed against a grate outside the Federal Trade Commission.
Ms Martin was assigned to the White House that weekend, but with President Barack Obama still on holiday in Hawaii, she spent the day looking for shots that would illustrate the cold weather - and found Mr Simmons in an area where homeless people often gather when it is frigid outside.
She saw a cluster of men huddled around the grate, introduced herself and started taking pictures. Then she noticed one person in particular, huddled under a blanket.
"It struck me how young he was," Ms Martin said. "I again introduced myself and shook his hand. He said his name was Nick."
Ms Martin finished shooting, sent the pictures to the wire and then called it a day. The next day, she received a message via Twitter from USA Today.
The newspaper had run the photo of Mr Simmons and said his family had recognised him and was trying to locate him. His mother was certain that the young man in the photograph was her son, missing for four days.
Police picked Mr Simmons up and took him to a hospital, said police captain Patrick Phelan. His father Paul, and older brother, also called Paul, arrived in last night and were reunited with Nick at the hospital, said family friends Peter and Cindy Gugino.
Ms Martin said the episode serveds as a reminder to journalists that every person they encountered had a story to tell.
"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."
Police said authorities notified local media and tried to investigate the case, but there were no leads until the publication of the photo.
"It was pure dumb luck how all this happened," said Sgt David Mancuso, the lead investigator. "It's truly a miracle."