Nicholas A. Simmons, 20, was last seen leaving home on Cider Creek Lane on New Year's Day.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. For one local family, it was the answer to a thousand prayers.
Nicholas A. Simmons, a 20-year-old Greece resident who had been missing since New Year's Day, was found in Washington, D.C., on Sunday after a photograph of him serendipitously appeared in the morning edition of the Democrat and Chronicle and intensified an ongoing search by family and police.
The photo was published by USA Today for local editions of Gannett newspapers and was taken by an Associated Press photographer. The picture ran with a story on cold weather sweeping across the country and depicted a purported homeless man identified only as "Nick" wrapped in a blanket and warming himself on a steam grate on the street just blocks from the U.S. Capitol on Saturday.
The Greece Police Department in a statement Sunday said Simmons had been found by Washington police near 6th Street NW and Constitution Avenue NW and was taken to George Washington University as a precaution.
"Simmons was located after he was photographed in Washington, D.C., by an AP reporter," the statement read in part. "(The) photo ran in the USA Today in an unrelated story and the photo was seen by Simmons' family who recognized him."
The photo had sparked a buzz on social media earlier in the day, as relatives of Simmons expressed a mix of elation, astonishment and determination on a public Facebook page.
"Nick is alive and obviously not well," read one post by Simmons' mother, Michelle Simmons, hours before her son was found. "(W)e 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."
Reached at home on Cider Creek Lane about an hour before police publicly confirmed Simmons had been found, Michelle Simmons declined to comment, saying that her family would speak out at a later time.
After police confirmed Simmons had been found, a woman at the residence said over the telephone that no one from the family was available to comment.
Simmons was last seen leaving the Cider Creek Lane home by car around 5 p.m. on Jan. 1, according to Greece police. He was driving a red 1999 four-door Buick Century sedan. It was not immediately clear how Simmons got to Washington or whether he still had possession of his car when he was found.
As if the photo of Simmons appearing in his hometown newspaper was not coincidence enough, the image was taken by a photographer with ties to the Rochester area. Jacquelyn Martin, the photographer, graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology in 2001 with fine arts degree, according to the school.
Attempts by the Democrat and Chronicle to reach Martin by email and through social media were not successful. An Associated Press photo editor said in an email that the newspaper's request to contact Martin was sent to its corporate communications division, which is not staffed on Sundays.
To comprehend the odds of something like this happening, consider that the photo had been selected by USA Today from the Associated Press wire, which carries thousands of photos at any given time and often offers news outlets that subscribe to the service several different images of the same event to illustrate news stories.
In this case, the Associated Press wire moved 126 photos depicting frigid conditions from across the country. Three of them were of Simmons, huddled near the Federal Trade Commission building, but only in one of them could his face be clearly seen.
The series of events that led to Simmons being found began around 10:50 a.m., when Simmons' sister, Hannah Simmons, reached out to the USA Today reporter who wrote the story, Natalie DiBlasio, on Twitter.
"(P)lease contact me," Simmons tweeted at DiBlasio. "(Y)ou wrote an article for USA Today that features a picture of my missing brother."
DiBlasio explained in an interview that after speaking with Michelle Simmons, she contacted her photo editor to find out whatever she could about the photographer. She later put Martin in touch with Simmons, whom DiBlasio said later told her that Martin had offered to search for Nicholas in the area where she had taken his photograph.
"His mom was just so emotional and thankful that she was able to make this connection," DiBlasio said.
By the afternoon, an emotional post on the Simmons Facebook page attributed to his mother stated that family was en route to Washington and read in part:
"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."