Sheriff reunites with Casey Hathaway one year after boy vanished into NC woods

CRAVEN COUNTY, N.C. — Wednesday marked one year since a 3-year-old boy disappeared into the North Carolina woods for nearly three days -- an incredible story of survival that captured the nation’s attention.

Casey Hathaway wandered off into the woods by his house near New Bern, and miraculously emerged unscathed days later.

Casey is now four, and the sheriff who helped bring him home wanted to pay him a visit.

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Craven County Sheriff Chip Hughes told our sister station WCTI it was the most emotional case he has worked and said all those emotions came back when he saw Casey again on Wednesday -- the first time he’d seen him since the boy was found.

“It’s very emotional to see him again, knowing a year ago, we didn’t know his fate,” said Hughes. “But to see him, he’s happy, he’s healthy -- it makes this job so rewarding.”

Hundreds of emergency responders, family members, friends and strangers turned out last January to search for Casey, who wandered off into the woods.

“I can remember the call coming through the radio that a small child had gone missing,” Hughes said. “The emotions started running in, you know, that we’ve got a small child missing in a wooded area.”

For nearly three days Casey was missing, and the window to find him alive was shrinking for the sheriff.

“The elements, the bears, the wildlife." remembers Hughes. "Casey’s a very small child; we didn’t know when he last ate or drank water. Just so many things you have to take into consideration. But the drive was there, by the community, my folks, everyone that came out.”

Hughes said he’ll never forget hearing the call come over on the radio that Casey had been found alive.

“I wanted to just grab ahold of him and hold onto him," he said. "I felt like this is my child."

Hughes said he plans to keep their special bond for a long time.