UPDATE: The mystery has been solved! Click here to read the follow up.
WINK News is turning to viewers for help solving a puzzling and emotional mystery involving one of life's most treasured moments.
Every year, excited couples come to Southwest Florida to marry. Many say their vows on our area beaches, choosing the peaceful backdrop of the Gulf's blue-green waters, the warm sun, and the white sand beneath their feet. For thousands of brides-to-be, that moment is a dream come true.
But imagine if you lost every memory of that day. For one couple, that's a real possibility - and a local woman is asking WINK News' Cayle Thompson and the Call For Action team for help finding them.
Patricia Fitch has spent the last four years flipping through a treasure-trove of memories that don't belong to her. She's been holding on to somebody else's wedding album since 2008.
"It's a very beautiful family," Fitch said. "He's a handsome Marine; she's a beautiful bride."
The mystery began at Southwest Florida International Airport, where Fitch used to work. In 2008, the album and its 185 photos was left behind.
"It was either on the plane or at the airport," Fitch recalled. "We had it for a long time. I called all the other airlines... to let them know we had a wedding album that included a Marine, and that if somebody began asking about it, to have them call RSW."
Nobody ever called. The album was kept secure at the airport, apparently forgotten for months.
But officials couldn't keep it forever. If nobody came forward to claim the album, it would have to be thrown away. That didn't sit well with Fitch.
"I couldn't let them throw it out," she said. "A wedding album is almost like the Bible. You don't throw one away in the trash."
So she saved it, promising herself she'd work to reunite the album with the happy couple it featured. She spent years trying.
"At first, I had it out for weeks, maybe months, every day looking at it," Fitch said. "I memorized the faces just in case anybody came through the airport or I saw somebody at the grocery store."
Fitch drove the beaches of Lee County, hoping she might recognize a location in the pictures. She even reached out to the Marines. But the task soon became a puzzle Fitch knew she wouldn't solve alone.
"I didn't get very far with it," Fitch told Thompson during a recent interview. "Then I thought if I gave it to you, you could look at it and get further than me."
Our Call For Action team decided to give it a shot, starting with a closer look at the individual photographs. We examined each one closely. None contained a date or a name, but they did give us some other clues.
The Marine is a sergeant, and a good shot. The medals on his uniform indicate he's a rifle expert. But he was not wearing a name tag.
A picture of the three-tiered wedding cake shows the partial initials "M.H."
Several other key clues can be found in pictures of the minister. He appears to be a family member; perhaps even father of the bride. In one picture, he's wearing a blue jersey with the number 23. WINK News identified it as a Buffalo Bills jersey, with #23 corresponding to player Marshawn Lynch.
A closer inspection also revealed the minister was holding a Methodist Book of Prayer. Call For Action reached out to several area Methodist churches on the chance somebody might recognize the pastor, but nobody did.
Call For Action also contacted the Lee County Clerk of Courts. If the wedding did, in fact, take place in 2008, it would be one of more than 3,400 in that year. But records officials say without at least a name, matching a marriage license to the pictures in the book is impossible.
So we thought: social media may be the answer. By sharing the story on WINK News, winknews.com, facebook.com/winknewstv, and twitter.com/winknews, it's our hope somebody will recognize the couple and reunite them with the memories in the album.
Fitch admits she has some reservations. After all, nobody knows what the future held for the couple. But Fitch says she tries putting herself in the bride's shoes.
"It's so sentimental," she said. "It's your wedding album. Even if you did get divorced, you don't want to get rid of beautiful pictures of your family."
Fitch hopes some day she can to close the book on the mystery.
"I want them to have it to hand down to somebody in their family," Fitch says. "Or be up in their 80s looking back on it saying, 'We almost lost this. But we have it back because somebody decided not to give up.'"