A 3-year-old boy who went missing on Tuesday has been found alive, surviving cold, rain and presumably critters in North Carolina’s woods.
“It’s the outcome that we always hope for, that we strive for every single time,” Shelley Lynch, a spokeswoman for the FBI Charlotte field office, tells NPR.
Casey Hathaway was last seen Tuesday afternoon playing with two other children in his great-grandmother’s yard in the town of Ernul, N.C. He didn’t come back into the house.
When Casey couldn’t be found, his family contacted the police.
“We lost my [3-year-old] grandson. … It’s been at least 45 minutes cause we’ve been looking all over the woods for him,” his great-grandmother said in a 911 call transcript released to a local TV station.
So began an exhaustive search.
Hundreds of volunteers helped state and federal law enforcement comb the rugged area, joined by canines, aircraft and drones. The search was interrupted Thursday by heavy rains and wind, and volunteers were told to stop searching because of safety concerns.
The terrain was “treacherous,” with some areas flooded and filled by sinkholes, the Craven County Sheriff’s Office said in an update online. Even trained searchers were experiencing difficulties.
As the hours passed, authorities feared that Casey, who weighs 25 pounds and stands 28 inches tall, wasn’t dressed warmly enough for the weather conditions.
“We did not give up. We were very persistent,” Craven County Sheriff Chip Hughes told reporters Thursday night when he announced that Casey had been rescued. “The little fella is happy and his parents are very happy, as well.”
Casey’s mother, Brittany Hathaway, thanked everyone. “We just want to tell everybody that we’re very thankful that you took the time out to come search for Casey and prayed for him.” Tears filled her eyes as she said, “He is good. He’s up and talking. He’s already asked to watch Netflix.”
She held the arm of Chocowinity Emergency Medical Services Capt. Shane Grier, who found the boy in nearby woods after responding to a local resident’s tip. He said he heard Casey’s voice, then “disentangled him from some briers he was hung up in.”
Casey had been asking for his mother, Hughes said.
Rescuers walked through waist-high water to reach him, the sheriff later said.
The boy was cold and wet, with a few scrapes and cuts. His coat was still zipped up. “For the conditions, I think he fared very well,” Grier told reporters. “We’re very fortunate for where we are.”
Casey was found about 50 yards into the woods — a little more than a quarter of a mile away from where he went missing, Hughes said, adding that he believed the boy had been wandering through the area.
“At no time did we see any indications of an abduction,” he said, which is why an Amber Alert wasn’t issued.
Casey was receiving medical treatment at the CarolinaEast Medical Center, with his family in the room.
Hughes told WCTI that Casey may be released on Friday.