A boy who was lost in the woods says a bear kept him company. No one can prove it didn’t happen.

A 3-year-old boy named Casey was playing in the yard with a few friends just the other day — and when it was time to come inside, he was absolutely nowhere to be found.

His great-grandmother searched everywhere — and she finally called the police. 

Casey Hathaway, boy who went missing in the North Carolina woods
Three-year-old Casey Hathway was missing for days in the woods. | CRAVEN COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE/FACEBOOK

An hour turned into hours. Hours turned into days. In Craven County, North Carolina, a search was underway for little Casey Hathaway. Police dogs helped by sniffing through the icy underbrush. Casey’s family tried to have faith, and tried not to fear the worst. 

Meanwhile, temperatures were dropping. Craven County Sheriff Chip Hughes started to believe that if Casey were to survive after so long, it would be a miracle. 

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Then one man on the search team heard a little voice crying out. He followed the cries deeper into the woods, past a freezing pond, and found little Casey Hathaway huddled up in some briars.  

“His core temperature was very low, his fingers and all had a bit of frostbite,” Sheriff Hughes said.

Casey was rushed to the local hospital where he could begin to regain his strength and reunite with his family. 

Casey Hathaway after he was found
Casey Hathaway was found three days later by a rescue team from the local sheriff’s office. | CRAVEN COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE

It was at the hospital, in the room where he was resting, that Casey told his mom something a little magical. 

Casey said that, while he was lost in the woods, a bear had looked after him.

Black bear in the woods in winter

His aunt then retold Casey’s story on Facebook, saying: “He said he hung out with a bear for two days … God sent him a friend to keep him safe. God is a good God. Miracles do happen.”

Since then, Casey’s story about the bear has made international headlines, some debating about whether or not such a thing is possible. Some dismissed the story as a fantasy.

​​​But Chris Norcott, a wildlife photographer who spends more time with black bears in North Carolina than probably anyone else, thinks the story could very well be true — he’s even heard similar tales in the past. 

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“I believe him,” Norcott told The Dodo. “Over the years, I’ve seen many behaviors which demonstrated their concern and nurturing side … towards their own offspring [and] other animals.”

Black bear mom giving piggyback ride to her cub

“This could certainly be possible,” Norcott said. 

“I don’t know if that meant he saw a bear,” Sheriff Hughes said. “I don’t know if that meant a bear embraced him or what it meant.”

Perhaps, for Casey’s sake, it doesn’t matter: For the little boy, a bear (real or fictive) helped Casey survive while he was scared and alone. And that’s something everyone can agree is a beautiful thing.

Members of the community have started sending Casey teddy bears to congratulate him on his safe return home. 

Black bear mom and newborn cub in den
Black bear mom and newborn cub in their den | CHRIS NORCOTT

“I thought it was a very cute story,” Sheriff Hughes said, “and if that’s what helped that child survive through this, you know what, I’m to going to embrace that story.”

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