Sleuthing mom helps reunite family with stolen baby photos

Helen Maslyk, pictured with her daughter Mya, found a 9-year-old roll of film along a highway, had it developed and set out to find the family of the baby in the photos.

Sometimes, long-lost treasures can turn up in the most unexpected places.

Helen Maslyk and her family were driving along the Malahat Highway in British Columbia this month when mechanical trouble forced them to stop on the side of the road.

As the unscheduled break went on, Maslyk’s kids began running around the area, so she followed them and noticed something on the ground – an old-fashioned film canister, the black plastic kind with a grey lid.

She picked it up, gave it a shake to see if anything was inside and, sure enough, discovered a roll of film that looked in relatively good condition. Suddenly, Maslyk was a woman on a mission.

“I’m the type of person (who thinks) everything happens for a reason so it didn’t even strike me as funny or strange to take it and want to go get it developed, find out what was on it and see if I could return it to the owner,” Maslyk told TODAY Moms.

Still, she was cautious about what kind of images might emerge.

“When I did hand the film over to the person to develop it, I said, ‘I found this film, so if something weird is on it, just let me know,’” she said.

When Maslyk finally got a glimpse of the mystery photos, a baby’s smiling face greeted her. Most every image in the set featured the newborn, though a few pictures also showed a man and a dog. One of the photos had a date printed on it: it was taken in 2004.

This was one of the many baby photos found on the roll of film. It turns out they were taken by Ann Perry-Smith just before they were stolen from her car in 2004.

What next? Maslyk’s first instinct was to post the photos on Facebook in hopes someone would recognize them. She had just recently moved to Sooke, a town on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, and had joined lots of Sooke community Facebook groups as a way of connecting with her neighbors.

So she posted the photos to the groups -- with the headline “Do you know who this is???” -- and settled in for a long wait. Incredibly, the mystery was solved the next day.

“It happened within 24 hours,” Maslyk said. “I didn’t think it would happen as fast as it did.”

In another part of Vancouver Island, Ann Perry-Smith began receiving frantic texts from a friend who urged her to take a look at something "super important" on Facebook.

"I did as she requested and was completely and utterly shocked to see photos of my baby Charlotte," Perry-Smith told TODAY Moms in an e-mail.

She had taken the photos just after the girl was born in July of 2004, but the roll of film vanished when her car was broken into after the family stopped along a rural road to go for a walk on a nearby trail.

"I was devastated when I realized that the precious memories of our daughter's earliest day were gone forever. Or so I thought," Perry-Smith said.

"My husband and I are thrilled to get the photos back in the family where they belong. It feels like the healing of a long open wound."

Maslyk met Perry-Smith for the first time on Tuesday to deliver the photos and chat over coffee at a donut shop.

"I am so grateful to Helen for not only finding the film canister but going to the trouble of getting the film developed and then locating me through Facebook. Truly the kindness of strangers can be astounding," Perry-Smith said.

Meanwhile, her daughter, who is almost 9, was "pretty excited and thrilled" to see the photos and hear the story behind their disappearance.