The girlfriend of an Oakland warehouse fire victim experienced a “Facebook miracle” in a time of crippling grief when hundreds of social media users helped her track down a special year-old photograph of the two of them.
Saya Tomioka's boyfriend Griffin Madden, 23, was among 36 people who perished in a fire at the Ghost Ship warehouse Friday. Amid her mourning for the loss, she turned to social media in an attempt to find the person who captured a a photo of the couple during a trip to New York City last June.
It had been Tomioka's first time in Times Square, she recalled in a Facebook post published Sunday. Tomioka and Madden were mid-embrace when a photographer captured the moment.
“I've always longed to find this particular photograph and thank the photographer,” she wrote in the post. “Friends, possibly with your help, I can be reunited with this photograph, this treasured memory that I'll always keep in my heart.”
Tomioka acknowledged that finding it would be akin to a “Facebook miracle,” but wrote it would be something to lift her spirits.
After being shared more than 300 times, the post made its way to Arken Avan, a professional photographer who is known for taking pictures of couples in New York's bustling city center. After a quick search through his photo collection, Avan zeroed in on the now famous photo and send it to Tomioka.
“Two people shared that post with me yesterday, my NYPD friend I know from Times Square, and some of Saya’s friends,” Avan told NBC Bay Area, on how he heard about the photo search.
He told Tomioka he remembered that exact moment.
“I actually remember this moment — young lady was holding pretzel in her hand and young man had lipstick on his cheek,” he wrote in a message to her. "What a beautiful and adorable couple I thought at that moment. I'm sorry for your loss and hope you will keep these pictures for memory, forever.”
He says also plans to share the photo on his @NewYorkFaces Instagram, in honor of Madden.
Tomioka has since taken to Facebook again, describing the agony of learning about the devastating fire and having to wait for days until crews recovered Madden's body and identified him.
"I thought that I'd feel better when the waiting ended, but instead, I felt dissatisfied. I felt like I hadn't found you---yet," she wrote.
But Avan's photo helped bring a "glimpse of your light back into my life," Tomioka said. "With the infinite help from our families, friends, and strangers, I finally found you."
Avan's photograph came at the end of a June 2015 evening that included Madden and Tomioka laughing hysterically over "The Book of Mormon" and haggling over a pretzel. After finding the photo, Tomioka said she "sobbed" and "immediately laughed uncontrollably."
She continued: "Life is so strange. I've lost you, but I've never felt stronger in my life. Through our many years of love and growth, I learned how to be strong from you."
NBC Bay Area's Rhea Mahbubani contributed to this report.
Gillian Edevane covers Contra Costa County for NBC Bay Area. Contact her at Gillian.Edevane@NBCuni.com or at (669) 263-2895.