It's been a long time coming, but a veteran will finally reunite with a girl he rescued during Hurricane Katrina.
Master Sgt. Michael Maroney was photographed receiving a big hug from then-3-year-old LeShay Brown, after he rescued her during the devastating storm, ABC News reported. The Air Force veteran had been searching for her for years but didn't know her name, so he enlisted the help of social media a few months ago, using the hashtag #FindKatrinaGirl.
The Internet certainly came through, and last week Maroney was put in contact with LeShay, now 13. The pair plans on seeing each other in person later this month -- a decade since their last encounter.
"I can't wait to meet her to tell her how important she is," Maroney told People.com of the upcoming reunion.
According to People.com, the photo was taken after LeShay and her family had landed in Maroney's helicopter. The hug left a big impression on the veteran, who had just returned from Afghanistan before he was sent to New Orleans.
"In my line of work, it doesn’t usually turn out happily," he told the outlet. "This hug, this moment, was like, everybody I've ever saved, that was the thank you."
The veteran had even reached out to Oprah Winfrey in the past, asking for help in finding the girl who had such a big impact on him, Airforce Times reported. His own social media campaign proved successful and his search for the girl finally came to a close thanks to an Instagram interaction.
"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. "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 ended up speaking to LeShay and her mother on the phone. The conversations, he said, were uplifting.
"Words cannot describe how I felt hearing their voices again at that moment," Maroney told ABC News. "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."
Though LeShay was too young at the time to remember taking the photo with Maroney, she told People.com that she's looking forward to the reunion.
"I was excited that he was looking for me for such a long time," the 13-year-old told the outlet. "I've barely seen any of the pictures!"
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