WASHINGTON — The parents of a missing young man who returned home after he was featured in an Associated Press photograph on a frigid Washington street say they’re still not sure why he left in the first place but that they’re determined to get him the help he needs.
Since arriving home, Nicholas Simmons, 20, hasn’t talked much about his ordeal, but his parents said he’s behaving normally otherwise.
“I got the bear hug of my life. We held on and didn’t let go,” Michelle Simons, Nicholas’ mother, said in an AP interview Wednesday night. “I do think he needed to actually get into the home and maybe start understanding what had happened to him.”
Nicholas Simmons stormed out of his parents’ home in Greece, N.Y., a suburb of Rochester, on New Year’s Day, leaving his wallet and cellphone behind as he drove away. His parents reported him missing that evening.
On the morning of Jan. 4, AP photographer Jacquelyn Martin, looking for a way to illustrate unusually cold temperatures in the region, snapped a picture of Nicholas as he pressed his face against a steam grate in downtown Washington, a few blocks from the Capitol. The grate is a gathering spot for homeless people looking to keep warm.
USA Today published the photograph, and the next morning, it was brought to the attention of Michelle Simmons and her husband, Paul. They recognized their son instantly.
“I wanted to fall to my knees,” Michelle Simmons said. “As a mom, you know your child’s face, and then I just couldn’t stop looking at it. It was so heart-wrenching. I just kept staring at it.”
Paul and Nicholas’ older brother, Paul Jr., immediately drove to Washington, where they were reunited with Nicholas by day’s end. He had been picked up by D.C. police and was in a hospital. The Simmonses stayed in a hotel and returned home the next day.
Paul and Michelle said they haven’t spoken much to Nicholas about why he left. In the AP interview, they didn’t discuss the specifics of his mental health, but they said they will seek counseling or other mental health services for him as needed. His departure followed a discussion with his parents about his future, they said.
“We knew he was kind of struggling with, ‘What am I going to do?'” Michelle said of her son, who lives with his parents and attends Monroe Community College. “He was getting very frustrated. You know what, it’s the most common conversation you would have with any 18-, 19-, 20-year-old.”
In the interview and in a statement emailed to AP, they thanked Martin, police, their close friends in the Washington area and others who helped in the search for their son. But Paul and Michelle said they don’t know why their son drove to Washington.
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