In November 2018, the Camp, Woolsey, and Hill fires tore through parts of California. The Camp Fire alone has been named the deadliest blaze in California history, claiming more than 80 lives and destroying nearly 14,000 homes in Butte County. Friends and family of individuals in the path of destruction tried desperately to reach their loved ones during the aftermath of the 17-day blaze. Fortunately for some, an angel was there to help them.
Emergency dispatcher and mother Nancy Collins knows the importance of reuniting families. In her spare time, she volunteers as a “search angel,” reconnecting adoptees with their biological relatives through public records and genealogy searches. Collins saw an influx of panicked posts in missing persons groups that sprung up on Facebook after the fire. In that moment, she knew she could use her investigative skills and connections to assist her fellow Californians in their time of need.
Following the catastrophic wildfires, Collins mobilized a group of eight volunteers from an organization called Search Squad to reconnect displaced families in the Paradise, California area, (a town that was virtually leveled by the Camp Fire). The “Angels of Paradise,” as they’ve become known, convened in online chat groups and divided up the hundreds of “missing persons” posts among them.
Using public databases, the Angels tracked down property deeds, court records, and bankruptcy filings. They used BeenVerified, along with Ancestry.com, WhitePages.com, and others, to locate names, cell phone numbers, and email addresses of any associated people who might have clues to the whereabouts of these missing individuals. Then, they worked tirelessly to follow up on every possible lead they found.
Search a full background report on a person One reunion made possible by the Angels of Paradise was that of 55-year-old Delisa Gaeta and her foster father, Dale Wingett. Gaeta spotted a photo of Wingett in a local newspaper article about a wildfire survivors Thanksgiving dinner — so she knew he had made it out of his Paradise home alive. However, the authorities had no information on Wingett and had been trying unsuccessfully to contact him for two weeks.
That’s where the Angels stepped in. Through a series of online searches and calls to relatives and a property management company, Collins and her volunteers discovered that Wingett was en route to Willows, California.
“We called every hotel in Willows and said, ‘If he checks in, can you give him this message?’” Collins told SFGATE.
Wingett eventually did check into one of the hotels the Angels contacted, and got in touch with his foster daughter.
In an interview with SFGATE, Gaeta said she is so grateful to the work of these volunteers, noting that “they gave [her] the best Christmas gift.”
Since the Angels of Paradise began their efforts, they’ve helped nearly 250 people like Gaeta find the friends and family members they were looking for. There is still work to be done, and many families are still looking for loved ones who lived in the path of the fires, but BeenVerified is proud and honored to be a part of the Angels’ work.Search a person's history and background check