Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, a United States airman reunited with the young girl whom he rescued from the floodwaters in 2005.
On Saturday evening, Air Force Master Sgt. Michael Maroney drove from his duty station in San Antonio, Texas, to a Mississippi community center to be the now-14-year-old Lashay Brown’s date to the junior military ball, following in the footsteps of her rescuer.
Their touching story began over a decade ago when Maroney served as a pararescue jumper in New Orleans picking up survivors in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and noticed the 3-year-old girl standing below.
Maroney recalled, “And when she smiled at me I was like ‘Whoa!’ Because I was having a horrible day but I mean, she was having the worst day but she was still smiling!”
He said she had been trapped for three days without food or water before Maroney pulled her and her family to safety. He called that moment with Lashay “life changing.”
“She wraps me up in this hug and all my pain went away,” he said. He told the Air Force Times that Lashay’s hug brought him hope to carry on with his rescue mission in New Orleans, and even in the darkest of days during war deployments.
— Caray Grace (@caraygrace) March 18, 2017
Maroney continued to wonder what ever happened to Lashay and launched a social media campaign in search of the little girl but to no avail. Five years later, in 2015, Maroney tried again. This time, a teenager in Michigan volunteered his Instagram account to promote the search.
Using the hashtag #FindKatrinaGirl and attracting the attention of hundreds of national media outlets, he finally found Lashay in Waveland, Mississippi, one month after the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
Maroney and Lashay reunited on the television talk show “The Real” and recreated the hug photo. Shortly after, their heartwarming rescue picture appeared on the cover of People’s “American Heroes” collector’s edition.
Somebody shared this with me. Didn’t know it was out or that i was on the cover. So I want to thank People magazine, Becky Randall for writing such a great and touching story, Mark Resendez for mentoring me and giving me a lot of brotherly love, Mike Mahoney for protecting me so I could heal, my parents for the genetics of being so stubborn that quit is not in mu vocabulary, all of you for your support and allowing me to support you with videos and answers and God for making a young lady that gave me a smile and a hug when I needed it most. Thank you to the Brown family for their strength and friendship.
Since the “Katrina Girl” and airman reunited in 2015, the duo has formed a friendship and they often visit each other and talk on the phone regularly, reported People.
When Lashay had the opportunity to invite an escort to her military ball, she could think of “nobody else” but the man who saved her life. “It would be more special to him,” she told TV station WLOX at the dance.
On Saturday evening, the two attended the military ball, Lashay now towering over Maroney. “If not for her hug and her smile on that day,” Maroney told WLOX, “my life would probably be a lot different.”
H/T: Washington Post
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