3-year-old boy to undergo forensic exam week after being found in NC woods

CRAVEN COUNTY, N.C. — We may never know what Casey Hathaway was doing during the three days he was missing. He was found on Thursday, cold but alive, in a mess of vines and thorns in Craven County.

Since the night authorities found him, speculation and rumors as to how the boy ended up there have run rampant.

Some wondered how a child could survive in such frigid temperatures for nearly three days, while others believed Casey wasn’t lost, but instead abducted and later placed in the woods.

[READ MORE: Mom says 3-year-old found after 2 days missing is doing well]

Craven County Sheriff Chip Hughes sat down with Channel 9's sister station, WCTI, to set the record straight.

Sheriff Chip Hughes

(Sheriff Hughes)

"Everybody's got a theory about what took place, and how there is no way this child could have survived," said Hughes.

The sheriff said it was by the grace of God that Casey survived, and he addressed the rumors.

"He was not fine. He was extremely cold. He was extremely dehydrated. He was very wet. I've heard he was perfect. No," said Hughes.

Police said the land around the house is pitted with sinkholes, open bodies of water and brush that can be a danger to anyone, especially a 3-year-old.

"The notion that he was sitting in a house or a vehicle for two days and put out there a couple of hours before we found him is absolutely not true. His core temperature was very low, his fingers and all had a bit of frostbite," said Hughes. "A lot of it, according to what medical was telling us, was conducive for him being out in the elements for an extended period of time."

Hughes said Casey did not remain in one spot the whole time. Instead, the toddler moved around, and had at least an hour head start on them.

Casey Hathaway

(Casey Hathaway)

"Once we got the K-9s there, so many people before we got there walked through that area and disturbed the ground," he said.

The sheriff knew time was running out and said Casey's survival is a miracle.

"The coldness, the wet and just the terrain we were dealing with, this kid was looked after, make no mistake about it," Hughes said.

The 3-year-old volunteered one noteworthy detail about those days in the woods: a bear kept him company.

"He made a comment about having a friend while he was in the woods -- his friend was a bear," Maj. David McFadyen with the Craven County Sheriff's Office told CNN. "In the emergency room he started talking about what happened in the woods and he said he had a friend that was a bear with him while he was in the woods."

McFadyen said there are bears in the woods of Craven County, but there's no evidence to prove one was with Casey. All that matters, McFadyen said, is that something was there to comfort him during the three days.

"We are very pleased he had that type of comfort. There were very brutal conditions out there. The first night it dropped down to 20 degrees, the second night we had 2 inches of rain," he said.

Casey will undergo a forensic psychological exam this week, McFadyen said, but for now, authorities are giving the boy time to recover and settle in with his family.

"He has not been interviewed yet about what happened, he's a 3-year-old little boy," McFadyen said. "Until we do the forensic exam we won't have a definite idea yet."

Hughes also spoke to WCTI about the story of the bear in the woods and said that is a story that Casey told his mother at the emergency room. She told the sheriff that Casey said he was with his friend the bear.

“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,” said Hughes. "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 3-year-old to his mom, to us.”

The sheriff said his office will continue to follow up on any lead or tip pertaining to Casey, but there is no evidence linking the boy’s disappearance to any criminal activity.

CNN contributed to this article.

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