It was dark, and Casey was afraid. He had wandered in circles for hours and could not find his grandmother’s backyard. The little boy knew he would be in trouble, but he was also freezing cold and hungry. He just knew he had to keep walking and would eventually make it home safe.
When it was too dark for him to see, Casey sat down on the damp ground and tried to wrap his arms tight around his body to stay warm. His teeth were chattering so loud, and he almost didn’t hear the snap of twigs next to him. Casey looked up and was staring into a bear’s golden eyes – he had no energy to run or do anything. A moment later, the bear stood up and started moving fast towards the boy…
On January 22, 2019, 3-year-old Casey Hathaway was visiting his grandmother. He loved to spend the days with her and she had a big backyard the young boy loved to run around in. The only rule for Casey to follow as he couldn’t wander into the forest behind the house.
While Casey was always a well-behaved boy, no one knows why he decided to leave the backyard that day. One minute his grandmother saw him running around the next she realized he was gone. Her heart was racing, in their small town they didn’t usually lock their doors, but there were lots of dangers around every corner.
The small town of Ernul, North Carolina was quiet. Its small population is a close-knit community, and it’s a place where children can play outdoors without a care in the world. The one rule is to come home when it gets dark. The town borders lush, dense woodlands that are home to many dangerous animals that would easily devour a small child.
Casey’s grandmother knew that Casey understood the rules. He was always a good boy that didn’t stray far from the house. When the neighbors hadn’t seen him either, her heart sank and she stared into the trees. It would be dark in a couple of hours, would she be able to rescue her grandson in time?
At first, Casey’s grandma searched for him for 45 minutes. She knew the woods by her house and figured the young boy wouldn’t have gone far. Every minute that ticked by she became more frantic and was screaming into the trees hoping Casey would respond.
She realized it was time to call the local police. The dispatcher recognized her voice and realized the urgency of the situation immediately. Casey’s grandmother was patched through to Sheriff David Mcfadyen. They knew every minute was valuable to get Casey safely home.
While the town of Ernul was picturesque, the forest was dense. The local authorities did not feel confident they could search the woods alone and sent out a radio broadcast for volunteers. Everyone recognized Casey’s name and quickly over 100 people gathered to scour every inch of the woodlands.
The police force was not taking any chances and encouraged their search and rescue team to include dog handlers, drone users, and any other volunteers. They even had a team that would be diving into the murky waters, but would anyone find young Casey before nightfall?
While this was the largest search and rescue mission ever organized in Urinal, North Carolina, the police force was struggling to stay optimistic. The environment would be dangerous for an adult and Casey was only 3 years old.
They tried to be encouraging and were grateful for the number of volunteers that were present. In the back of Sheriff’s David Mcfadyen’s mind was a terrible truth. He knew it was too soon to reveal this reality to Casey’s family.
This was the largest search and rescue mission organized by the citizens of Urinal. The volunteers tried to help but as the weather got worse authorities had to send them home. It was getting dangerously cold and dark. Adults were struggling with the winds and had to save themselves.
Every time another volunteer left, Casey’s family realized the awful truth. They would not find their son tonight. If they did find him, it might not be in the same condition they same him last. Casey’s mother sobbed into her mother’s shoulder. She just wanted her little boy to survive and come home!
The temperature was dropping to -7 degrees, which is below freezing. The woods also had many animals including wolves and bears. On the first day, the search team was only able to cover a few kilometers and vowed to cover more ground the next day.
When volunteers got back to the comfort of their own homes, they spoke in whispers about Casey’s journey. The town recognized it was a bleak outcome and prayed the boy figured out how to stay warm through the night. Casey was getting help from a dangerous friend, but would anyone believe his story when he told them?
On Jan 23 the local news ran a story about Casey’s disappearance that moved to national news channels quickly. It felt like all of America was tuning in to find out what happened to the missing little boy.
The local police force felt the pressure building. They needed to find Casey and close the case. They spread the volunteers out further and used all the resources they had at their disposal. As more news channels began asking questions, there was a truth no one could ignore any further.
When the search and rescue team found nothing on the second day Sheriff David McFadyen was anxious. The conditions were dangerous for adults and the little boy only had a thin jacket to protect him. He began to fear they would not be rescuing anything anymore. The chances of Casey being alive got smaller every hour.
When the sheriff spoke to news teams he no longer smiled and his brow was tense as he answered questions. Time was running out to save this young boy. Nobody realized, he had made friends with a different protector in the woods.
Volunteers had been searching and helping for almost 30 hours. Everyone began to assume they would not have a happy ending to this story. Casey was only three years old and tiny. They had to check carefully not to miss him and volunteers began to dread what they would find.
The case finally got a break on the second day. A young member of the police force thought he could hear a child crying. His ears perked up and he began to run towards the sound. Was Casey coming home?
In an amazing turn of events, a member of the police force heard a child crying through the woods. He couldn’t believe it was possible and followed the noise deeper into the forests. As he pushed back thorns and branches, he came to the opening on a river.
As the young officer stood on the river bank, he began screaming for help! There was Casey sitting on a river dam. The police officer swam out to him and quickly gave Casey a jacket. Quickly more volunteers showed up. No one could believe they had found the little boy, but how had he survived this long in the woods.
The river where Casey was rescued was deep. It went up to a grown man’s waist and was ice cold. Casey was found sitting on a dam in the middle of the river. The little boy was crying and barely had a voice left but the police officer quickly swam to him and got volunteers to help him.
They had to get Casey to a doctor immeaditley and have him checked over. The young boy was in shock and very weak. It looked like his dangerous adventure was not over yet.
The young officer didn’t even think to look at where he had found Casey or who else might have kept the boy safe for two days. As the volunteers got him safely to shore and quickly to a hospital no one thought to go back and check the location.
What clues were there to Casey’s miraculous survival? It was incredible that they had found the young boy, but his story was about to shock everyone to their core.
When Casey got to a hospital 30 minutes later the doctors were amazed to confirm that besides being in shock with minor cuts – he was in perfect health. The boy was wrapped in many blankets and given nutritious soups.
His family was overwhelmed with joy. They just kept hugging and kissing the toddler, it was unbelievable that they had found him. So many of the volunteers had begun to lose hope. What was the secret to Casey’s happy ending?
As he slowly warmed up the police began to ask Casey what happened. When the boy began to speak, the police, doctors, and nurses could not believe what he told them. It seemed like a fairytale.
At first officers and doctors assumed Casey’s story was made up. There was no way it was believable. Casey’s version of events never waivered. He was insistent that he owed his life to a surprising hero. Would anyone believe him?
Casey patiently repeated his tale several times. He told them at night a big bear kept him warm and protected him in the forest. Casey refused to admit anything else and instead said he wanted a glass of water and asked for his mother.
Even when his mother was holding him in her arms his story did not change. He didn’t think it was that incredible and instead was just tired and wanted to sleep. His family had different plans now that Casey was home.
His parents were thrilled to have Casey back home safe and sound. It didn’t feel possible a bear had kept their son safe against the natural dangers and threats of the forest? Even though they asked Casey if this was all in his imagination, he said the bear was his friend and that’s who he spent the most time with.
Casey was a young boy with a vivid imagination and he liked to play make-believe at home with his sister. His parents stopped asking him for the truth and began to accept this miraculous story. They would not be the only ones with questions about their son’s survival.
While everyone was happy Casey was home, there was one person that was vocal about his disbelief over Casey’s rescue and amazing survival. While Casey was glad to be home, his adventure was starting to attract a lot more attention.
National news teams had been following the search and rescue mission and when they heard Casey’s version of events they ran the story. One scientist and researcher immeaditley called Casey’s bluff, but did he have proof?
Chris Servant is a Zoologist and bear researcher. He has dedicated his entire life to the study of bears and says Casey’s story is impossible. Chris explains the wild bears would never befriend a human, much less a small child.
Chris says he believes Casey has a stuffed animal or teddy bear and used his imagination to feel safe and survive the scary ordeal. This was the only explanation Casey was providing. Why would he lie about his time in the woods? Was the toddler protecting a dark secret or a different enemy?
Based on where Casey was found, something or someone put him there. It’s also critical that something had given Casey food. The young toddler was very thirsty but was not hungry or suffering from malnutrition.
All the facts point to Casey having a secret hero that monitored his experience in the woods. On top of the below-freezing temperatures, Casey could not have survived for 2 days by himself. If Casey wasn’t going to tell anyone the truth, who could his family thank for his survival.
Scientists across the United States agreed with Chris Servant. The big question was about the location where Casey had been found. It was in the middle of a river that was over a meter deep. The little boy was not a strong swimmer and would not have been able to walk or swim to the dam where he was found.
If people started investigating the bear theory which species would make the most sense. It was hard to picture a bear being gentle with a tiny toddler, but one species stood out.
If there was one breed of bear that Casey would have been safe with, it would have been the black bear. They are extremely common in the area and prefer to avoid people instead of attacking them. Black bears are exceptional swimmers and easily over 2 meters tall.
The community was beginning to think Casey could be telling the truth. They wanted to push the young boy for more answers, but something more important came up. It was time for Casey to go home.
Casey’s mother stared at her son and couldn’t help but wonder if he would ever be the same. Would he feel safe being back inside the house or would he remember living in the wilderness? As they brought him home, his parents breathed a sigh of relief.
Casey was just happy to be home. He wanted cuddles and time on the couch to watch Netflix. He had a big appetite and his mother and grandmother made all his favorite snacks. Casey felt happy but didn’t understand why everyone kept asking about his friend in the woods.
People refused to drop Casey’s claim to fame. Scientists wanted the truth and felt that Casey might have valuable information on bear behaviors. They believed Casey could hold the key to unlocking new bear theories.
Casey’s family got protective was just relieved he was safe and home. The pressure got so intense they went to social media. His aunt wrote on her social media, “It doesn’t matter who says what. All that matters is that God sent him a friend to keep him safe. As you can see, miracles do happen.” Would the public finally back down and leave the family alone?
While the scientific community was relentless, there was different energy from other local families. So many had tuned in to follow Casey’s story that they wanted to send a special present to welcome him home.
After Casey had become a national news story, his family was surprised to see how many people wanted to follow up and connect with them personally. In fact, they became overwhelmed with the warm messages and a special gift that kept arriving for Casey.
When news reporters told their audiences Casey says a bear kept him warm and safe for two days, his family was shocked to start receiving this weird piece of fan mail. It was a sweet cuddly gesture, but after what the boy had been through, it was the last thing he wanted to see.
Understandably, Casey had enough of bears. His mother, Brittany Hathaway had to jump onto her social media, and ask strangers to stop sending this item! Every day the family kept receiving more teddy bears in the mail. Folks across the united states wanted to let them know they were thinking about Casey’s recovery and didn’t want him to feel alone or scared ever again.
Every day with Casey at home truly feels like a gift to his family. They donated the stuffed animals to local charities and spent every minute possible together. It became magical to create memories with Casey when so many had assumed he would not survive.
The young boy is excited about his future and still loves playing outdoors. He does a better job of following the rules and staying close to home, but he will never forget his guardian furry angel.