Lost and Found: How Facebook helped one woman reunite tornado victims with their most precious possessions

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ATHENS, Ala. (WHNT) - Patty Bullion and her family escaped the brunt of the April 27, 2011 tornado outbreak. Yet, they were not untouched.

Outside their West Limestone home, Bullion found a photo.

Then, another.

And, another.

Even more were scattered around her mother-in-law's home, down the road.

The pictures didn't belong to anyone in her family. She had no idea where they came from, how far they might have been tossed by the storm. But she knew she had to try to find the owners.

"It just kind of broke your heart. I've always been really big on pictures... that's memories you can't get back," Bullion says.

While Bullion had a Facebook page, she realized the chances were slim that someone on her friends list would recognize the pictures.

So, she created another page - Pictures and Documents Found After the April 27, 2011 Tornadoes. By the next morning, there were 12,000 people following it and the first picture had been claimed.

For one year, Bullion collected and posted photos. When she wore out one scanner, she bought another. She hauled boxes of pictures, baptism certificates, military papers and other mementos to community centers - where victims could search for a piece of their past.

But she wasn't alone.

Some folks donated postage - a big help considering all the photos she was mailing. Some posted the pictures they'd found in their own yards.

Others - and this happened often around Fayetteville, where Bullion says the storm seemed to dump a lot of pictures - searched the fields. They put on muck boots and tramped through the mud for hours, sending their hard-won treasures to Bullion.

Others worked from their office chairs, searching for evidence in the pictures they saw online - amateur detectives, researching little league teams and Army units, looking for clues that would point to a hometown or last name.

Altogether, about 100,000 people from all over the world participated in the Facebook page.

Out of 5-6,000 items, Bullion estimates about 2,000 found their way home again.

"Everybody just wanted to help and that's what that page did. I tell everybody I started it but... it wasn't just me. It took everybody to do it."

Five years later, Bullion still has a few hundred pictures left. There's also a 1961 Certificate of Baptism and two small quilts. One was made for "Mrs. Bailey." Bullion speculates it was a baby shower gift from a pre-school class.

She can't bear to throw any of them away. After all, she says -- they're not her memories.

"I'd still love for these all to go home."

Although the Facebook page has been removed - Bullion felt it wasn't right to keep it up past the one-year anniversary - she still has hopes of reconnecting the remaining items with their owners.

If you think you can help or if you're a victim who would like to examine the remaining photos, you may email Patty Bullion at pbull35@charter.net.

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