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77 days at sea: How a lost iPhone was returned to its owner

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The home screen photo was a key to finding the phone's owner Amie Vreeken with Google Lens. (Photo: CBS12)

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. (CBS12) — On most mornings, including one in April, you’ll find Laura Leigh and Lawton Martin walking the beach, looking for shells in the surf.

“It was just a little square black, I picked it up, I knew it was a phone case so I mentioned to Lawton, I think this is a phone, so we put it in our shell bag and we took it home,” Laura Leigh Martin told CBS12 News.

They took the case off and let it dry out.

“I couldn’t charge it because we did not have that charger at our house and that’s when Devron came in,” Lawton Martin said.

Devron Richardson is the tech savvy neighbor.

“He and his wife are great, they come over and help us all the time when we have computer problems,” Lawton Martin said. After a charge, the phone worked.

“I see this picture of the mermaid family on the phone and I figured it can’t be too hard to find that family,” Richardson said.

He has a Google phone, which has a feature called Google Lens: scan a photo and it searches the web for it. “Next thing you know, that same picture pops up here and I just dig a little more,” he said.

His investigative work leads him to Amie Vreeken, a professional mermaid performer from Las Vegas, on Facebook.

“'Hey I think my neighbor found your phone at the beach,'” he says recounting a Facebook Messenger conversation. “And she writes back, ’OMG are you kidding! That’s amazing!’ And we just went on from there,” he said.

She even has her own YouTube page.

“I’m kind of all in on the mermaid thing,” Vreeken said. She goes to Delray Beach, Florida every couple of months to visit a friend. Back in early February, they were kayaking when a wave hit her boat, knocking her iPhone 8 in the water.

Even with a waterproof metal detector, she couldn’t find it.

“Seventy-seven days, 77 days since the second it was in the water until we got the call that someone had found my phone,” she said.

The key picture is Amie with her four kids, all in nautical attire. Protecting the phone, a cheap case she bought right before they went kayaking. “That little $10 case, I wrote a good review on Amazon for it. The title is ‘77 days in the ocean, phone okay,’” she said.

With Amie back in town, the four agreed to meet in front of CBS12's cameras, near where the phone went missing.

“Ahhh, it’s really my phone!” Vreeken said, holding it up.

Without the sharp eye of the Martins, the technological skill of Devron and the unique mermaid profession for Amie, the phone would probably still be churning in the surf.

“Good deeds come back to you tenfold,” Lawton Martin said.

“It’s a great story to tell,” Richardson said.

“Everybody needs a little something happy and especially since we’ve been so isolated for so long, to have some random excuse to meet really cool people and have something like that to bring the community together was really amazing,” Vreeken said.