Thousands of miles from his Mississippi home, Willie James had exhausted all resources in his quest to find out whether his family had survived Hurricane Katrina. Finally, the U.S. Navy sailor received an unexpected lead: He saw what looked like his niece and mother pictured in a Red Cross advertisement online.
Eager to confirm the identity of the young girl grasping an adult’s hand, James — stationed in the Persian Gulf in Manama, Bahrain — shot off an e-mail about the ad he saw on MSN.com.
"I have not talked to no one in my Family since Katrina and I have tried several hurricane relief sights," James, of Pass Christian, Miss., wrote on Sept. 4. "Today my niece Tyranni DeDeaux is on the MSN main main page spotlight photo holding on what looks to be my mother's hands. If somehow you could get info to me about my Family it would be greatly appreciated."
The e-mail, directed to CNN.com's "send a story idea" section, resulted in a flurry of activity as people from numerous news Web sites, Getty Images and ad agencies worked together to answer the sailor's query. CNN contacted MSNBC.com, which has a partner agreement with MSN.com; MSNBC.com contacted MSN.com; MSN.com contacted its advertising department, and the advertisers contacted the photographers.
The long chain of communication resulted in success.
The caption originally attached to the photo read: "Tyranni Dedeaux (right) clings to her grandmother Judy James in Pass Christian, Mississippi on August 31, 2005. James survived Hurricane Camille and believes Hurricane Katrina was much worse."
On Friday, MSNBC.com and MSN.com sent James the confirmation he was looking for, as well as the e-mail address and phone number of the photographer who took the picture. As of publication time, James had not responded.
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