Thousands of pages of sensitive and vital records belonging to Gulf Coast residents and their children were found last week scattered all over the Bay St. Louis bridge.
The records included official copies of birth certificates and Social Security cards of adults and children, copies of driver’s licenses and state IDs, bank account statements and utility bills, as well as documents from the Mississippi Department of Human Services, the Gulf Coast Community Action Agency, various courts and an organization called ROMA.
The Sun Herald was given three garbage bags full of the records from Bay St. Louis residents Nikki Frost and her mother, Susan Earles. They contacted the Sun Herald because they were unsure whom the records belonged to, though they suspected they belonged to DHS and must have fallen from a moving vehicle.
Earles said she was reluctant to contact DHS and youth court officials in Hancock County based on her experiences with those agencies, which is why she contacted the Sun Herald.
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Frost said she was heading west on the bridge May 17 when she saw the sky fill with white papers that soon flew into to her windshield, prompting her to pull over.
“There were so many of them,” she said. “It almost caused two accidents because people couldn’t see where they were driving.”
Frost got out and saw another woman scrambling to try to collect the papers, so she decided to help out, she said.
She thought the papers belonged to the other woman but when she asked, the woman told her they did not, Frost said.
Soon, both Frost and the other woman realized the records probably came from a government agency. They collected as many as they could but most were taken away by the wind.
“This is not even a dent in the amount of records that were out there,” Frost said, referring to the three bags of documents she managed to collect.
Youth Court officials in both Harrison and Hancock counties said the records were not theirs, but on Friday, officials from the Mississippi Department of Human Services came to view the records at the Sun Herald.
Those DHS officials took the records and said they belonged to the now-defunct Gulf Coast Community Action Agency, a social services agency that formerly offered financial assistance to low-income families in Hancock, Harrison, Stone, George and Greene counties and managed the Head Start child centers in Harrison County .
The GCCAA lost federal funding — about $9 million — and closed down in 2015 following several reports of teachers abusing children at the Head Start centers.
No former officials from the GCCAA could be reached for comment. Phone numbers listed for the agency are no longer in service.