A three-year-old boy who survived two nights alone in the woods in freezing conditions has told police and family he was helped out by a friendly bear that was with him the whole time.
Rescuers responding to reports of a baby crying found Casey Hathaway tangled up in thorny bushes, cold and soaked but safe on Thursday night. He had gone missing on Tuesday in conditions so bad the subsequent search had to be called off.
As it turned out, help – perhaps real, perhaps imaginary but certainly useful – was at hand in those woods in North Carolina, a state that is home to plenty of black bears. Craven county sheriff Chip Hughes said Casey “did say that he had a friend in the woods that was a bear that was with him”.
The claim was reportedly repeated by the boy’s aunt Breanna Hathaway. “He said he hung out with a bear for two days,” Hathaway wrote in a Facebook post. “God sent him a friend to keep him safe. God is a good God. Miracles do happen.”
Hughes said the boy had been playing with two other children in his grandmother’s backyard in Ernul on Tuesday, but did not come inside with them.
Brutal weather conditions in the low 20s (Fahrenheit) and concerns Casey wasn’t dressed for the cold sparked a search that involved helicopters, drones, K-9 units and divers, as well as hundreds of volunteers. By Thursday the wind and rain had become so bad authorities urged volunteers to stay away.
“He’s a survivor,” said Hughes on Friday, pointing out that rescuers had to wade through waist-high water to reach the boy, who stands at 2ft 2in (66cm). Casey escaped with just a few scrapes and simply wanted some water and his mother, he said.