On the afternoon of April 25, Anisa Gannon got stuck in traffic around a fatal car accident en route to work.
She snapped a picture of the Gainesville, Georgia, scene “as proof that I was sitting in the wreck,” Gannon ,19, tells PEOPLE, “in case my boss wondered why I was late.”
Instead, when her aunt Tara Noble saw the photo — which appears to show an image of a golden beam of light connecting the wreckage to the clouds above — she saw something remarkable.
“She said, ‘Anisa, it looks like a pathway up to heaven,’ ” recalls Gannon.
Hannah Simmons and Lauren ButeauHOLLY DE'LYNN MCDANIEL
So Noble tracked down the families of Hannah Simmons, 23, her daughter, A’lannah, nine months, and friend Lauren Buteau, 28 — the victims of the crash — and gave them the photo.
“I just wanted to give them some peace,” she says.
It’s done that — and more.
“I just needed something to show me that they were in Heaven and that they were OK,” Judy Simmons, Hannah’s mom, tells PEOPLE. “And that was my confirmation.”
Judy keeps a printout of the photo atop her TV, so she can see it all day.
Hannah and A’lannahJUDY SIMMONS
“Nothing’s ever going to be the same, my heart’s broken and I miss them daily,” she says. “If it wasn’t for the picture, I don’t know, it made it a whole lot better for me.”
Jodi Carter, Buteau’s aunt, says when she sees the picture “it takes my breath and gives me chills. It gives me hope. That picture has made me get through this.”
Adds Lauren’s mom, Dana Cantrell: “It gave me a peace that was indescribable.”
Hannah was a “happy, happy person” who “loved being a mother,” says Simmons.
Lauren, a mom of two, “was the life of the party,” says Carter. “If she walked into a room, everyone knew it, she always had a smile on her face and she would do anything for anybody.”
Hannah loved doing patty cake and singing nursery rhymes with A’lannah, already walking and zipping from room to room with a baby walker.
Hannah had just moved in with fiance Javont’e Hopkins, 25, and was a few months pregnant with their second child.
A heartbroken Hopkins tells PEOPLE the photo “is bringing me peace, I know they’re watching down on me. It’s helping a lot.”
The Georgia State Patrol did not return PEOPLE’s calls request comment but told the Gainesville Times that Simmons lost control of her Subaru Legacy and it veered into the path of an oncoming truck. The driver of the truck was not injured.
As for Gannon, she believes the beam of light is “clearly a glare off my window” but adds: “It still looks like a pathway to heaven. I didn’t mean to do it, but it makes me feel good that just the little things can help somebody tremendously.”