U.S. Airman Michael Maroney Finds Katrina Survivor Whose Bear-Hug Captured his Heart

© Provided by AccuWeather
© Provided by AccuWeather

It was a heartening moment captured amid overwhelming bleakness: A 3-year-old Hurricane Katrina survivor wrapped her chubby little arms round an Air Force pararescue jumper who had rappelled into New Orleans to save the girl’s family from floodwaters. 

The 2005 photograph showing a toddler with pigtails and an ear-to-ear grin holding tight to Staff Sgt. Michael Maroney was soon everywhere — plastered on Burger King placemats, AT&T phone cards, a magazine cover.

For many people, including Maroney, it represented hope at a time of total devastation.

“I was a single father trying to raise two boys. I had just gotten back from Afghanistan, and New Orleans was under water,” Maroney, now 40, told The Washington Post. “When she hugged me, everything went away. There were no problems in that moment. That meant everything to me.”

“It had been such a rough week; when she wrapped me up in that hug, I was in la-la land,” he said earlier this year. “Nothing else existed.”

Maroney never got the child’s name — but he has never stopped trying to find her.

Now, he has.

LeShay Brown, now 13, lives with her family in Waveland, Miss., about 60 miles from New Orleans.

She and her relatives plan to reconnect with Maroney in a few weeks, according to People magazine.

“I can’t wait to meet her to tell her how important she is,” Maroney told the magazine. “In my line of work, it doesn’t usually turn out happily. This hug, this moment, was like — everybody I’ve ever saved, that was the thank you.”

It was September 2005 when Maroney was sent to New Orleans to find survivors in Katrina’s aftermath. LeShay’s family had been waiting about a week to be rescued, and the young girl soon found herself in Maroney’s MH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter.

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Source: The Washington Post | Lindsey Bever

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