This story was updated Jan. 29 to include a Craven County Sheriff’s Office response to Casey Hathaway’s bear story.
The 3-year-old boy who spent two days lost in the woods of eastern North Carolina tells his family he “hung out with a bear” for companionship while hundreds of people searched frantically in cold and rainy weather to find him.
The Craven County Sheriff Office said Monday that it does not intend to dispute little Casey Hathaway’s story.
Casey’s aunt, Breanna Hathaway, shared the bear anecdote on Facebook Friday morning, adding that he “is healthy, smiling, and talking” after being found late Thursday night.
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“He said he hung out with a bear for two days,” she posted. “God sent him a friend to keep him safe. God is (a) good God. Miracles do happen.”
Casey spent Thursday night being examined by doctors at CarolinaEast Medical Center, and hospital staff said Friday that he was “in good condition,” according to TV station WBTW. His mother, Brittany Hathaway, remained by his side at the hospital.
He was released from the hospital Saturday, reported WITN.
Craven County Sheriff Chip Hughes addressed the boy’s bear story Monday during an interview with TV station WCTI.
“I don’t know if that meant he saw a bear. I don’t know if that meant a bear embraced him or what it meant,” Hughes told the station. “I thought it was a very cute story and if that’s what helped that child survive through this, you know what, I’m to going to embrace that story that came from a three-year-old, to his mom.”
Casey was found late Thursday, stuck in a tangle of vines and thorns, about a half a mile from where he went missing, Hughes said in a press conference streamed by WRAL.
Authorities say they were aided by a 911 call from someone who reported hearing “Casey crying for his mother deep in the woods,” reported TV station WSOC. A team rushed to the area and followed the sound of the boy’s voice, Chocowinity EMS Captain Shane Grier told WCTI.
The 911 caller, according to WRAL, was a woman who was walking her dogs when she heard the boy “crying out.”
The New Bern Sun Journal says the 25-pound boy “was wet, cold, and scratched up...but speaking” when found by rescuers who waded through “waist-deep” water.
Casey had been missing since Tuesday, when he wandered from his grandmother’s yard while playing with other children, said the Craven County Sheriff’s Office in a Facebook post.
Hundreds of volunteers joined law enforcement agencies to search “treacherous” terrain that is flooded and dotted with sinkholes, the sheriff’s office said on Facebook. “Even the trained searchers are having trouble navigating safely,” said the post.
TV station WSOC reported Friday that authorities don’t know how far the boy strayed during the two days, but “believe he was moving around most of the time he was lost.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Breanna Hathaway’s relationship to 3-year-old Casey Hathaway. She is his aunt.