Swiss teenager Marco Hauenstein was less than three years old when his mother went missing. After years of searching for her, he turned to Facebook for help and was blown away by the "incredible" response from users.
Nineteen-year-old Marco has no memory of his mother, Gina Barbara Hauenstein. What he does have, however, is an old photo from a missing persons' site and some basic information he decided to share online, hoping to reconnect with his family.
"After searching for many years without success, I am now turning to you," he wrote in a Facebook post that went viral earlier in January.
According to Marco, his mother was born in 1970 and disappeared in the year 2000. She is believed to have been suffering from drug-related problems - as an infant, the boy had to be treated for several months for an addiction apparently passed on during pregnancy. He has never known his father and has spent most of his life in foster care.
"I am asking you to share this because I finally want to know where I come from and I have a longing for a family. Any information, no matter how small, can be useful," he added.
Meeting long-lost grandmother
The response he received was overwhelming: as of Wednesday afternoon, the post has been shared over 7,660 times, with users all over the world offering him advice and support and numerous news outlets and TV stations picking up Marco's story.
Marco Hauenstein AKA Marco Julius Schelling was born in the northern Swiss canton of Aargau, near Zurich
Speaking to DW on Wednesday, the young Swiss described the reaction as "incredible," saying he could not imagine so many people were willing to help. Thanks to users sharing his Facebook post, he was able to reconnect to his mother's relatives.
Last week, he met with his grandmother and uncle for the first time.
"I felt enormous joy seeing them," he told DW via telephone. "On one hand, it was overwhelming, but on the other it was a bit of a weird feeling to find a part of my family, something I did not expect."
Police at standstill
Not even his newly-found relatives, however, could help him track down his mother, who has been missing for nearly 17 years. The police are no help either, as the authorities had received no updates on the case for a long time.
"The woman is still registered as a long-time missing person," Swiss police spokesman Bernhard Graser told the "Aargauer Zeitung" newspaper. "We don't know what happened to her."
According to Graser, the police tried to match Gina Barbara Hauenstein with several dead bodies found outside Switzerland, but without success.
"The missing woman would likely look completely differently today," he said. Commenting on Marco's appeal, Graser added it was understandable to use Facebook as a tool.
"In cases like this, social media is definitely a way that could lead to success," he said.
'Make the best of it'
The sudden media attention can get a bit overwhelming at times for the youth from northern Switzerland. However, he says it is "wonderful that so many people are ready to help me. I am really grateful that so many people are interested. For me it is no stress, just a huge help."
Marco still urges people to share his post, hoping to get in touch with both of his parents.
"I don't know what I would say to my mother if I saw her for the first time," he said. "It's hard to say."
Reflecting on his childhood, Marco said it was difficult to "stand up" on his own without his birth family, even though he was lucky enough to be raised by caring foster parents.
"If you start your life in this way, you are missing a certain kind of support, a family support," he said. "It's not easy, but you just need to keep fighting and must not stop seeing the positive in life. You have to make the best of it."