WASHINGTON (TheBlaze/AP) — Nicholas Simmons, 20, disappeared from his parents' house in Greece, N.Y., a small upstate town, on New Year's Day, leaving behind his wallet, cellphone and everything else.
Four days later, an Associated Press photographer who had been assigned to cover the White House had little to do with President Obama still in Hawaii. So Jacquelyn Martin spent Saturday looking for a way to illustrate the region's unusually cold weather in Washington, D.C.
She came to an area where homeless people often gather when it is frigid outside. She found 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," Martin said. "I again introduced myself and shook his hand. He said his name was Nick."
Nicholas A. Simmons, pictured here, was missing from his New York home for four days when an AP photographer met him and took his photo on an assignment to cover the cold weather. Here's the original caption: "Nick warms himself on a steam grate with three other homeless men by the Federal Trade Commission, just blocks from the Capitol, during frigid temperatures in Washington, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014. A winter storm that swept across the Midwest this week blew through the Northeast on Friday, leaving bone-chilling cold in its wake." (Image source: AP/Jacquelyn Martin)
Martin finished shooting, sent the pictures to the wire and called it a day.
The next day, Paul and Michelle Simmons saw the photograph published by USA Today in Sunday's Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester, noticing the man in the photo looked like Simmons, USA Today said. Then they told local police. (The photo was brought to their attention through a Facebook page set up to help find their 20-year-old son, according to police and family friends.)
That's when Martin received a message via Twitter from USA Today, telling her that Nick's family had recognized him and was trying to locate him. Michelle Simmons was certain that the young man in the photograph was her son.
Sunday night, Greece police said they contacted police in Washington, who located Simmons, USA Today reported.
"Simmons was taken to George Washington University Hospital as a precaution," according to a press release from police. Simmons' father, Paul, and older brother Paul Jr. arrived in Washington Sunday night and were reunited with Simmons at the hospital, said longtime family friends Peter and Cindy Gugino.
"Nick is alive but obviously not well," according to a Facebook post by his mother and the family, USA Today added. "We are going to get him home and safe. ... I am beyond able to put into words how I am feeling."
"It could have been months before we had a lead on his whereabouts," Michelle Simmons wrote. "My baby looks so lost and I will be spending the rest of my life making him well."
Martin said the episode serves as a reminder to journalists that every person they encounter has 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."