While vacationing in Helen, Georgia, with her grandparents and cousins during the Fourth of July weekend, 12-year-old Emily Root stepped on what she believed was a fish.
Instead, it turned out to be a GoPro camera at the bottom of the Chattahoochee River. A GoPro is an HD-quality waterproof video-recording camera that can range in price from $200 to $400, according to the GoPro website.
After vacationing, Emily returned to Clarksville, Tennessee, where her family is stationed, with the GoPro in hand.
Eager to return the GoPro to its proper owner, Emily and her mother, Leah Root, were able to retrieve the memory card out of the camera and watch the videos. They paused one video and grabbed a still shot of the man they thought was the owner. Then they set out to find him.
"We shared it on Facebook, and Emily begin looking for different ads through Craigslist and searching keywords like ‘lost,' ‘GoPro,' ‘Helen,' ‘Fourth of July,' anything we can think of, and we just couldn't find anything," Root said.
Unable to find any ads about the missing GoPro, Emily and Leah sent the picture to Atlanta TV station WXIA.
"We asked if they could share this man's picture, that my daughter was looking for him, that she had found his camera and that she wanted it to be returned to him," Root said.
WXIA media director Julie Wolfe received the photo and filed a report about the missing GoPro, and the story was broadcast Sunday, July 13, on the 10 o'clock news. It was also shared on Facebook. Within 10 hours of the original post, the owner was found: Nathan Palmer, a sociology lecturer at Georgia Southern University.
Palmer and his family also had been vacationing in Helen, tubing down the Chattahoochee River when an accident happened.
"The tube came out from underneath me and flipped up over my head, and the GoPro fell off and went square into the water and went down the river for six or seven days," Palmer said.
After the news broadcast about the lost GoPro, Palmer was notified that he had been seen on TV.
"I woke up first thing Monday morning, and there were three or four emails from colleagues and people on social media saying, ‘Hey, you're on the news,'" Palmer said.
Palmer then emailed Wolfe at WXIA saying that he was the owner, with a picture of himself included. As it turns out, Wolfe already had been notified by viewers stating that the owner was Palmer.
WXIA ran another story about how the owner of the lost GoPro had been found, and Wolfe also notified Emily and her mother that the owner was located.
"Julie called and she said that we have him, we found who it was, and we were super excited," Root said.
GoPro also was following the story and heard about Emily and her good deed.
"People had apparently been writing them to give Emily a camera and equipment for doing her honest deed, but we declined that, because that is not a lesson we teach our children," Root said. "We do not get rewarded for being honest."
Instead of receiving it herself, Emily asked that GoPro donate the camera package to her favorite charity back in Atlanta, Bert's Big Adventure.
According to its website, Bert's Big Adventure is a nonprofit organization that offers children with chronic and terminal illnesses and their families a five-day, expenses-paid vacation to Walt Disney World.
"We thought it would be so wonderful if one of those families had it and could see the trip from the child's point of view, and how much fun they had, and they would get a kick out of keeping those memories long after the trip was over," Root said.
Since the situation came to light, Emily and her family have received attention from several media outlets, including CNN Headline News and USA Today, as well as several smaller outlets across the United States.
Emily, a naturally shy and timid girl, was taken aback by all the publicity and was confused when she received attention simply for doing the right thing.
"It really isn't that big of a deal, because it's what everybody should be doing," she said.
Although Palmer was excited to get his GoPro back, he was even more impressed to find out that the person who went through all the trouble to return the camera was only 12 years old.
"It's unbelievable. I struggle to find the words to describe how impressed I am with her," Palmer said. "J.C. Watts said, ‘Character is doing the right thing when no one is looking,' and I think that fits Emily to a tee. She has a ton of character, and I really can't say enough positive things about her. Because honestly, the reason this is a news story is because of her. I am just a buffoon that lost their camera in the river."
"It's not a second thought for her to think that people should go out of their way to help others and do the right thing," he continued,"because that's her automatic nature, and she doesn't understand why it's not everybody's automatic nature."
Palmer has learned about the different accessories for his GoPro to prevent an accident like this from happening again. However, Emily has given him something much greater than just his camera and memories from his vacation.
"I have a 6-year-old daughter, and she got to witness firsthand what a person of strong moral character does. Emily has taught my daughter a lesson that I could never teach with words," he said. "Emily's actions are going to be something that my daughter and I will remember forever. And that is priceless."