CRAVEN COUNTY, N.C. — A North Carolina community came together Friday night to celebrate officials finding a 3-year-old boy who was lost in the woods for nearly three days.
Casey Lynn Hathaway, who was found alive Thursday night after disappearing from his grandmother's yard in Craven County, is doing well and "already asked to watch Netflix," according to his mother, Brittany Hathaway.
At a news conference Thursday night, Brittany Hathaway thanked the nearly 600 volunteers who turned out to search for Casey Lynn Hathaway after he went missing from his grandmother's backyard Tuesday.
A search and rescue professional, Shane Grier, described finding the boy to news outlets. Searchers responding to tip had heard Casey calling for his mother Thursday and the Chocowinity EMS captain subsequently found him around 50 yards into the woods, entangled in briars.
"He was cold but he was verbal in command to us. The more we warmed him up, the more active he became," Grier said. "For the conditions, I think he fared pretty well."
Officials said the child is in good health and was being evaluated at CarolinaEast Medical Center in New Bern.
Authorities had said Casey wasn't adequately dressed for the weather, as temperatures hovering around freezing mingled with intermittent rain. Craven County Sheriff Chip Hughes had expressed concern about sinkholes and deep water ditches in the area, and divers were dispatched to assess nearby ponds. Volunteers were even turned away for Thursday's search because of safety concerns.
"We don't want to make an incident into another incident," Joe Monette of the North Carolina Forest Service had said. "It is an array of ditches, water - you name it, it is here."
The FBI, state investigators and the U.S. Marine Corps from nearby bases at Camp Lejeune and Cherry Point joined the effort to find Casey. Hughes says searchers covered 220 acres.
It's still uncertain where Casey was during those two days and what enabled him to stay safe. Hughes believes Casey moved around.
“We responded on a tip, located by voice this young man, went to him, disentangled him from some briars he was hung up in, brought him out, here we are,” Grier said.
When he was found, he was still wearing his jacket, zipped up. He was taken to a hospital for evaluation.
"We brought Casey to his family, just like we said we were going to do," he said. "I could not be happier by the way this turned out."
(Watch below as Sheriff Hughes and Casey's parents speak to reporters)
Casey was only a quarter-mile from where he was first reported missing, but authorities believe he was moving around most of the time he was lost.
Investigators said there is no sign of an abduction, and said Casey was wearing the same clothes as he was on the day he disappeared.
The sheriff said the boy was very wet and cold and had scratches, but otherwise was in good condition.
According to Hughes, Casey said he spent two days hanging out with a bear.
The public relations director of CarolinaEast Medical Center, Megan McGarvey, told the media Casey is in good condition and will be released later Friday or on Saturday. Dr. Nicole Check said Casey is in good condition and resting, and that his family is happy to have him back safe.
“We've brought Casey to his family just like we said we were gonna do,” said Craven County Sheriff Chip Hughes. “We did not give up. We were very persistent. Little fella is happy, and his parents are happy as well. He had a big smile on his face when he saw his sister. And I can tell you it's just very, very touching. I could not be happier by the way this turned out."
Casey's parents took the opportunity late Thursday night to hug the first responders who located their son and thank those that helped during the search.
“We just wanna tell everybody that we're very thankful that you took the time out to come search for Casey, and pray for him,” Brittany Hathaway said. “And he's good, he is good. He's up and talking. He's already asked to watch Netflix, so he's good, he is good.”
“Thank you, everybody, for coming out,” Chris Hathaway added. “All the prayers, it means a lot.”
Hughes said Hathaway was playing with two other children in his grandmother's backyard in Ernul on Tuesday but didn't come inside with them.
Officials said earlier on Thursday that challenging weather wasn't going to stop the search for Casey. Heavy rains and strong winds challenged officials as they searched the thick woods behind the home.
A 3-year-old missing for two days is now hours away from returning home to his family.
Crews in Craven County found Casey Hathaway after a two-day search in hard rain and freezing temperatures. The search was watched closely by rescuers in Gaston County, who went through an intense search of their own months earlier.
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Their search was for 6-year-old Maddox Ritch, who disappeared after running away from his father in Rankin Park. The six-day search ended with thousands of searchers covering hundreds of acres, finally discovering that Maddox had died.
Watch Eyewitness News at 5 as Channel 9's Gaston County reporter Ken Lemon talked to one of the searchers in the Maddox Ritch case, who followed the two-day search for Hathaway.
The FBI, state investigators and the U.S. Marines Corps from nearby bases at Camp Lejeune and Cherry Point were part of the effort to find the child.
The FBI's Charlotte Division said only professional searchers participated because of weather-related safety concerns.
Hughes said Casey was not adequately dressed for the cold weather and he was concerned about sinkholes and deep water ditches in the area. He said divers assessed nearby ponds.
So many volunteers showed up Wednesday, authorities actually had to announce that no more would be accepted. As many as 600 volunteers scoured the area on Wednesday.
Authorities said the boy’s grandmother was watching Casey and two other young children when the child vanished. The boy was playing in the backyard and the grandmother realized he was missing when the two other children came inside without him.
He apparently wandered into thick woods behind the home and was last seen around 1:45 p.m. Hughes said the grandmother and others searched for the child for 45 minutes then called 911 when he couldn’t be found.
(Below is the initial 911 call made after Casey disappeared)
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The search area has terrain that is difficult to traverse because of thick woods.
“Extremely rough terrain,” Hughes said. “Lot of vegetation, irrigation ditches with a foot of water. Lot of thorns, just tough to get through.”
"The terrain was woods. It was thick in places," Max Dudley, a volunteer, told WTVD. "Some places it wasn't that thick, but we took our time and you see the next person, and you look and you look and you look."
The FBI said they have no reason to believe the boy didn't just walk away and got lost. He also said the family has been fully cooperating with the investigation.
The Craven County Sheriff’s Office had asked that residents in the area check their property, particularly storage sheds and vehicles, for the boy.
"We are doing everything we can to find this child, utilizing all resources at our disposal and once again, we want these folks in the Cayton community and Ernul community to certainly keep an ear out," said Hughes. "We've got well over 100 volunteers that have come here."
"We went through the woods -- through the thicket and the briars," said volunteer Donna Harris, a mother of three. "We did it for three-and-a-half, four hours and it was bad. It was really bad out there. If everybody could come and help look for him, it would help. As it got darker, it was scary out there. I just can't imagine a 3-year-old being out there."
On Wednesday night, dozens of the volunteers who spent the day searching for Casey gathered to pray for his safe return.
“You've got an army marching over this land, and Lord, we're marching here tonight, believing that this child is going to be rescued,” one volunteer said.
"It's heartbreaking. I have two children so I can only imagine what the family is going through and we're a small community so you don't really expect anything bad to happen here," Jonathan Ipock, a youth pastor at New Haven Church told WTVD.
Ipock said some of Casey's family attends his church.
"You have so many people volunteering from our community and surrounding areas because they were putting themselves in the shoes of the family," Ipock said. "What would happen if that was one of their children? It's just amazing to see everyone come together to help."
A Highway Patrol helicopter with a heat-seeking camera and a Marine Fisheries airplane was brought in to help search for Casey. Temperatures were below freezing for 6 hours overnight Tuesday in the Craven County area, according to National Weather Service data.
Anyone with information can call the sheriff’s office at 252-633-0498 or the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation at 919-662-4500.
WCTI, WTVD, WRAL and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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