‘Angels’ bring sleuthing skills to California disaster

Published 7:54 am Tuesday, December 11, 2018

SAN FRANCISCO — They have become known as the Angels of Paradise. But there is nothing ethereal about them.

They are online sleuths who know how to find people, and they have been putting their skills to use in the aftermath of California’s catastrophic wildfire.

In the dark days that followed the Nov. 8 inferno, the deadliest in California history, social media filled with posts from people trying to contact loved ones from the Paradise area.

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Panic spread as the magnitude of destruction came into focus: At least 85 dead. Nearly 14,000 homes destroyed. From across the U.S., people posted names of aunts, uncles, foster parents, distant relatives and long-lost friends or acquaintances and asked, “Does anyone know if they are safe?”

Nancy Collins knew she could help. A mother of two and a 911 dispatcher, Collins volunteers as a “search angel,” someone who helps adoptees find their biological parents. She knows her way around public records and how to track people down.

She offered her services to the administrator of a newly created Facebook page, “Camp Fire Missing Persons, Paradise CA,” after noticing panicked posts were piling up.

“I said, ‘I have a bunch of genealogy friends, and we can help,” said Collins, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and formed a team of eight “angels” from around the country and one in Canada, all of whom volunteer with a group called Search Squad. “The rest was history.”