Lebanon High senior Melissa Bohrman can't remember how many times she has cried since losing her bright orange Nikon CoolPix camera last summer on a canoe trip.
The $300 camera, a 2013 Christmas gift from her parents, Byron and Carol Bohrman, went kerplunk into the waters of Big Cedar Creek on July 21 after Melissa and her canoe mate flipped their craft while enjoying activities at WinShape Camp in Mt. Berry, Georgia.
"My friend and I were going over a rapid, and the canoe tipped over, and as it tipped, we both fell in. I remembered my camera was in a pouch in the canoe. We flipped the canoe back over and I didn't see it," recalled the 17-year-old, who plays on the Lebanon tennis team and is a member of Future Farmers of America and Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
More than the camera, she was crushed because of the loss of the hundreds of images in her camera's memory card--pictures she had taken of a family vacation to the Grand Cayman Islands, pictures of summer camp and a picture of Lebanon prom tickets, a keepsake for her scrapbook--all images she had yet to download and save.
"I cried right away because I had all those pictures on there, and the counselor wouldn't let me look for the camera that I knew I could find," said Melissa, an optimist.
The schoolgirl posted her woeful tale on Facebook last July: Really wishing I could share my vacation and camp pictures I took, but I really only have very few. My $300 camera with over 500 pics is now in the river in GA. My canoe tipped over a rapid and next thing I knew it was gone in not very deep water, I coulda found it but got yelled at when I tried to find it. Yeah I shouldn't have taken it, but I didn't think about that since it was waterproof. R.I.P to those memories.
Six months later, Melissa continued to believe in the impossible.
"I still thought about the camera. I believed it was possible to find it. I think I still had hope."
Back along the banks of Big Cedar Creek, Alan Reeves of Cave Spring, Georgia, and his foster son Hayden Yother, 12, went hiking after a recent flood.
"I took Hayden exploring the weekend of Jan. 11 to see what might have washed up from the minor flooding the week before," said Reeves via an email interview. "Hayden likes to collect turtle shells, and we sometimes also find tackle boxes, paddles, life jackets, sunglasses, fishing rods--that sort of stuff."
Spying something in a brush pile, the youth made his way to the object and picked it up.
"I saw the orange color and thought it was a phone. When I realized it was a camera, I thought I would like to have it. It had water in the lens and on the back display, so we didn't know if it was any good," said Yother, a Coosa Middle School sixth-grader.
Reeves thought the camera nothing more than a piece of "ruined junk" but stuck it in his pocket and toted it home.
"Imagine my surprise when it turned on while I was just turning it over in my hands," remembers Reeves. "I told Hayden maybe we could find out who it belonged to, and it would be a neat detective job if we could.
"He still wanted to keep it, but I told him, 'It is always better to do the right thing.' Besides, someone might really want it back.
An image of Lebanon prom tickets preserved in Melissa Bohrman's lost camera proved to be the clue needed for Alan Reeves of Cave Springs, Ga., to track down its owner.
"We saw the last picture was taken on July 21, a selfie of a young girl. I called the outfitter who rents canoes and asked if they remembered someone losing the camera, possibly by looking at the liability waiver forms that are signed. They remembered a group from WinShape Camps in Rome, Georgia, where a camera had been lost."
Turning amateur sleuth, Reeves called the camp but not before he removed the memory chip from the camera and noticed an image of a girl's hands holding tickets to the Lebanon High School Junior-Senior Prom.
A WinShape counselor determined the camera belonged to Melissa and passed along Reeves' contact information to her mother. Within 48 hours after finding the camera, Reeves had connected with Carol Bohrman and told her of his find.
Melissa's reaction to the news that her camera and those precious pictures were on the way back to Lebanon?
"I got excited and I cried again because I was happy. I was happy because of all those memories I could have to look back on for lots of years," she said.
Back in Georgia, young Hayden felt similar emotions.
"I was happy and excited they had it back," he said, noting that he had gleaned a valuable lesson. "I learned to give people back their stuff, even if you end up with it by accident. Try to do your best to give it back."
In gratitude the Bohrmans' mailed the sixth-grader a check, which he said he plans to use "to possibly buy a camera of my own or maybe a phone case for my phone that I use for a camera."
As for busy Melissa, who is rushing toward graduation day and also working nine to 10 hours a week at Chick-fil-A, well, she had to share her good news on Facebook as repeated in the following paragraphs.
"To everyone who remembers this post I just want to say that miracles really do happen!!! My mom received a call about two weeks ago from the camp I was at this summer. The lady speaking with my mom gave her information to a man who lives in Georgia, and said that this man had found my camera. The man and his son were walking along the creek when the man's son happened to see something bright orange under a brush pile. The water had risen about a week before and my camera washed up on land.
"That's when they found my camera STILL CHARGED AND THE PICTURES WERE STILL THERE 6 MONTHS LATER! He went through the pictures and saw a picture of the prom tickets from school (which said Lebanon High School on it). . . . The man and his son played "detective" to try and find who I was so my camera could be returned to me.
"As they kept searching through pictures the man recognized the camp I was at and contacted the camp to see if they could find me. Sure enough the lady on the phone was able to figure out who I was with little hints and my camera was mailed to me days later. I told the lady that got on to me that it could be found and it was.
"Miracles do happen!!! Words cannot describe how happy I was when I got the news that someone had found it and took the time to find me not knowing anything about me or how upset I've been over losing it. Even though they had a chance to keep the camera they were honest and returned it. This is a good life lesson for everyone in so many ways. Thank you so much!!!"
Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.