Tess lost her iPhone on Tuesday night.

She’d purchased this iPhone used with her own money, so the loss of the phone was a hit financially as well as a detriment to her lifestyle. Tess wasn’t sure if she simply misplaced it, or maybe a friend had collected it for her.

On Wednesday morning she used Find My iPhone to discover that it was several blocks away from our house, either in an apartment building or perhaps somewhere along the wooded banks of the Alum Creek. Angela called the cops and explained the situation. The nice officer went over to the area in question, but wasn’t able to identify which apartment might contain the phone. Interestingly, the phone’s icon went dark on the Find My iPhone map about the time that the cop got nearby, so presumably someone had turned it off.

When Tess came home from school Wednesday, we were able to get some more details, and do some more investigating. She did have a PIN code activated, so it was unlikely that anyone had used the phone to do much. Looking at the phone’s activity according to our Verizon account suggested that three texts were sent around the time Tess thinks she lost it. Additionally, some data had been used through the night.

At first, we thought that perhaps one of Tess’s friends may have taken the phone and sent the texts. Several of her friends do know her PIN, and kids do silly things to one another. The recipient of the texts were Tess’s ex-boyfriend, so conceivably someone could have sent something to him from Tess’s phone trying to stir up trouble. Then they may have left the phone back where they found it, thinking that Tess would reclaim it.

A second look at the Verizon account indicated only a small amount of data usage. This was probably just background apps phoning home, and not someone actively using the phone to do anything. This was reassuring.

The location of the phone on Wednesday pretty clearly indicated that someone other than one of Tess’s friends had possession of it. Or perhaps someone found it, discovered it locked and unusable, and dropped it by the creek banks no longer interested in it.

We consulted the Find My iPhone map again several times, and confirmed that the phone was reporting the same location. I decided to take the dog for a walk to see if I could spot the phone. The plan was that I’d call home when I approached the area, and Angela or Tess could activate the phone’s ringer to help me locate it.

I got to the target location, called Angela, and asked her to activate the ringer. Almost immediately the phone’s icon went dark on the map. I poked around for a bit, trying to see if anyone was obviously tending to an iPhone. I did see one homeless guy camped out by the water, but I was more than a little hesitant to approach him by myself. I asked Angela to again engage the ringer. This time she told me that the phone’s icon was moving on the map!

It moved a couple blocks over, and then came to a stop. The game was afoot! Clearly someone had the phone in their possession, and were moving quickly: either on bike or in a car. I headed toward the new destination, and explicitly told Angela to not engage the ringer again. No reason to give away our activities.

I approached the corner at which the phone was reporting its location and saw a young boy sitting in plastic swing hanging from the branch of a tree. His shoulders were slumped, and he was clearly looking at something in his hands. As I rounded the corner, I saw that he was holding something white. Tess’s iPhone is a white one, and is in a white case. Confident that I’d found the phone I approached the young boy.

“Hey, is that a white iPhone? My daughter lost her’s,” I said to the kid. He looked up at me a little surprised, but almost immediately held out the iPhone to me. It was definitely Tess’s phone.

I didn’t have much cash on me, but I did offer the kid a couple bucks for finding the phone. I’ve no idea whether this kid is the one who took it, or if he found it somewhere. Either way, I was perfectly willing to give him a small reward for returning it to me. He sheepishly said “That’s okay” and lowered his head.

After getting the phone back, we tried to fill in the missing pieces of our theory. Tess reviewed her text history and found that the texts to her ex-boyfriend were in fact sent by her earlier that day. The time of these texts reported on the Verizon account was off quite a bit from when Tess sent them, which made our investigation a little more complicated. It also didn’t help that she didn’t remember that she’d texted with him on Tuesday – that would have been a useful data point to have when building our theory.

Thankfully the story had a happy and non-confrontational ending. The phone was peacefully recovered, and was intact.

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