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Mystery of lost camera - solved!

At only a small cost to privacy, two North Carolina Buffalo Bills fans are getting back the camera they lost in Hawaii, thanks to Internet crowdsourcing.

Late Wednesday night, Lydia Hoeppner of Kailua-Kona posted on her Facebook page a picture of a young couple on vacation. The man was wearing a Buffalo Bills T-shirt.

“Share share,” Hoeppner wrote. “Trying to locate one of these people to hopefully return their camera with their March 2015 Hawaiian vacation pictures on it. Maybe East Coasters if the T-shirt is a clue.”

And share people did.

By Saturday, the image had been shared more than 20,000 times on Facebook alone. Reddit had a link to it and at least two football-related Twitter accounts – @TheBillsMafia, with 53,000 followers, and @DraftDiamonds, with 76,000 followers – sent the plea out to their audiences.

By 7:12 p.m. Thursday, Hoeppner thought she had found the owner of the camera, and by the following morning, she was sure. They communicated by email and she shipped the camera off Saturday. Although she didn’t speak to them, she said it was her understanding that they were on a regular vacation and that the man in the photo is from Western New York.

“I love that they will be getting a camera full of memories back,” she wrote Friday morning on her Facebook page. “ ... The picture of the cute couple will be shared for years now. I wish I could let them all know what awesome work we did.”

Hoeppner has been in charge of the lost and found at a rental car company since March and said by phone Saturday that she has seen at least a dozen cameras of all different kinds that have been left behind in cars. Some people call to see if the cameras have been found, but those that aren’t collected are donated after 30 days.

“We donate more than we give back,” Hoeppner said.

She said people leave a lot of things in cars – sunglasses, small items, things they just bought for the vacation, but added, “The cameras have always bugged me.”

When she saw the nice bright orange underwater camera that had gone unclaimed, she decided to take a closer look before sending it to charity.

“It was all these pictures of this nice happy couple,” she said, so she figured she would try one more thing, and posted a couple of the photos on her Facebook page with a generic email address. She has heard from people all over the world, many of them wanting to “friend” her and others offering suggestions about who could be in the pictures. A former classmate of the fellow in the shots came through with the real ID – someone at work showed her the picture – and, as Hoeppner said, “That worked out pretty good, except for all the strangers trying to contact me.”

Tracking down owners of lost items, particularly when those items contain photos, has become a social media thing. There even are websites dedicated to getting cameras back to people. posts maps showing exactly where in the world hundreds of cameras have been found and lost, along with photos found on the data card. Hoeppner’s effort paid off so quickly she didn’t have to go to a specialty site. She said she is shipping the camera back to its owners in North Carolina and is considering setting up a special Facebook page just to post other lost items.

News Staff Reporter Melinda Miller contributed to this report. email: