The Air Force veteran who has been trying to reconnect with a girl he rescued 10 years ago during Hurricane Katrina has finally found her, thanks to the power of social media, he said.
This past March, Master Sgt. Michael Maroney started the social media campaign hashtag #FindKatrinaGirl in the hopes of reuniting with the three-year-old girl he rescued. She was was photographed smiling in pigtails and pink shirt hugging Maroney back in 2005.
The iconic New Orleans image has served as a symbol of hope after the devastation.
“When she wrapped me up with that hug, I just melted, and the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders,” Maroney, 40, previously told ABC News. “Everything in the world just stopped, and I wasn’t in New Orleans or in the devastation, I was just being hugged by a beautiful little girl.”
Unfortunately, he never got her name. But last week, a miracle happened, he said.
“A friend of hers contacted my son on his Instagram and said, ‘Hey, the girl your dad’s looking for is a friend of mine,” Maroney told ABC News today. “He sent us a photo of the girl a month after Katrina, showing her and her family in a shelter in Tennessee. I compared that photo with my photo, and I knew that it was her.”
Maroney found out the girl was now 13, that her name was Leshay Brown and that she and her family were currently living in Waveland, Mississippi.
The airman, who currently lives in San Antonio, Texas, said that when he phoned Brown and her family, he was nervous and scared that it would be a hoax, but her voice and the memories her mother shared confirmed for him that this was indeed the girl.
“Words cannot describe how I felt hearing their voices again at that moment,” Maroney said. “I was like, ‘Is this real? Is this really her?’ I’ve been waiting for 10 years for this, and finally I found her. I had a stupid smile across my whole face the whole time.”
Maroney said though Brown could only remember little of their helicopter ride together 10 years ago, her mother remembered everything.
“I was just happy to know they’re alive and doing alright,” he said. “Hopefully, in the next couple of weeks I’ll get to meet them in person, and I plan on bringing my two boys. They’re right around her age, so I think that’s why when I first met her 10 years ago, I was drawn to her.”
Maroney added that he wants to thank everyone who took to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr and other social media to help him find Brown.