(NEW YORK) — The hunt for a mysterious lottery winner whose photo was released in an effort to find him this week ended just hours after it began.
Bladimir and Marita Agnite of Fremont, Calif., came forward to claim the $52 million Mega Millions jackpot after a friend or relative told Bladimir he had seen his picture on the news.
Speaking to reporters Friday evening, Bladimir Agnite said he confirmed his win on his computer and then woke up his wife in the middle of the night.
“I said, ‘We’re wanted — in the lotto,” he said.
After she, too, confirmed the win, she said, according to California lottery officials, “I started crying. He hugged me and we just cried and cried.”
California lottery officials earlier released a still shot of an unidentified man who turned out to be Bladimir Agnite, dressed in a white T-shirt and sunglasses, buying the winning ticket in the July 27 drawing at a Kwik Stop in Fremont, Calif.
Bladimir Agnite later checked the winning ticket multiple times at Raley’s and Safeway stores in the Bay Area, in Northern California, but had not officially come forward to claim the prize, according to the lottery commission.
He said that despite his follow-up checks, he didn’t realize he had really won.
The couple could use the money. Bladimir Agnite was laid off from a printing company and Marita Agnite works as a hospital nurse, according to a lottery statement on the winning couple. They plan to use their winnings to buy a house and pay for college for their children, and she plans to keep working.
Mega Millions winners have one year from the time of the drawing to claim their prize.
“The California Lottery truly believes that when a person buys a lottery ticket with the hope and prayer of changing their lives, we should do all we can to connect them with their winnings. We believe this effort will make a lot of Californians very happy,” said Russ Lopez, deputy director of corporate communications for the lottery.
The California Lottery said it began sending out photos of all apparent winners of unclaimed prizes recently. In fiscal year 2011-2012, more than $20 million went unclaimed, it said.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Ivana Kottasova, CNN
Jeremy Diamond, CNN
Nate Eaton, EastIdahoNews.com
Tal Kopan and Jeremy Diamond, CNN