Casey Hathaway has been found for nearly three weeks, and the story is shifting to a planned celebration and an influx of theories on Facebook.
The 3-year-old Ernul boy was lost when he wandered into the woods from his Grandmother’s home on January 22. After two nights and the better part of three days in freezing temperatures followed by pouring rain he was found on January 24th, about 50 or 60 yards off of Aurora Road, badly tangled in briars.
A group of volunteers who had searched for Casey are planning a celebration in April and, at the same time, are raising funds for a bear statue to honor him – that bear idea based on Casey’s telling his mother, Brittany Hathaway, that he had been befriended by a bear while he was lost.
Meanwhile, while most posts about Casey have been positive and supportive, not a few have featured theories that law enforcement is either hiding something or is unaware that more nefarious things happened during Casey’s disappearance.
In the latter, both posts and word of mouth have suggested that Casey was snatched from his grandmother’s yard by a local person with an apparent mental illness or by someone else. According to this theory, when the kidnapper saw so many people searching, he panicked and turned the boy loose near his home to be discovered by searchers soon after.
The main reasoning behind the theory is the length of time Casey was said to be caught out in the cold – Sheriff Chip Hughes, himself, stated that as of the morning of the 24th his odds of survival were only 20 percent. The theorists claim the kidnapping explains his survival.
The second reason behind the theory is a lack of understanding how hundreds of volunteers could have gone so long without seeing him.
Hughes, himself, addressed the issue, noting that the area being searched was covered in dense forest, mud and water, making movement or siting difficult, while Casey likely did not stay in one place, but was mobile much of the time.
Volunteer searchers Ina Thomas, Rocky Gonzales and Wayne Barnett agreed, saying that if you were onsite, you would easily understand how Casey could have been missed for so long.
“It was wet, muddy with sink holes everywhere,” Thomas recalled. “I was covered in briars. I had them all over my body and through my clothes.” She remembered impassable and nearly impassable areas. “We had to straddle a log to get the other side (of one muddy embankment),” she said.
“It was cut trees to big, thick forest and baby forest,” Gonzales recalled of the terrain they dealt with, while Barnett noted that “It was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. There were spots where it took 15 minutes just to move 200 feet.”
Hughes added that the SBI and FBI both agreed with the sheriff’s department’s conclusion that the boy had been in the elements the whole time, while EMTs at the scene verified that he was suffering from long exposure to the elements.
Both Hughes and the rescuers also stated that it would have been difficult for any kidnapper to release Casey in an area so flooded with searchers and aircraft and not get caught doing it.
Hughes showed some frustration with the ongoing conspiracy theories. “It’s odd. I don’t’ remember bumping into a lot of those people at 2 in the morning, out when we were looking,” he commented.
“If someone had kidnapped the child, nothing would please me more than to incarcerate him in jail. But it’s just not there.”
Thomas and six other searchers, meanwhile, have banded together to plan a community celebration in honor of Casey and all the people involved in his rescue, from searchers to first responders to providers of food – and are also raising money to purchase a “Casey Miracle Bear.”
The celebration gathering is set for April 6 from 2 to 6 p.m. at Creekside Park – the same location they hope to set up the bear. “A lot of people chimed in and said we need to do this,” she said.
She hopes to have hotdogs and games for children, at the very least, and is hoping the community will come through to help sponsor the event with food and other materials and/or prizes.
The April 6 date is set to have a better chance of warm weather, she said, “and for the family to have time to heal.”
She said her group also wants to raise $2-3,000 for the bear. The group has approached the company that makes the fiberglass bears generally used in New Bern’s growing collection of commemorative bear statues. While all the ones presently displayed are standing on all fours or on their hind legs, the Casey Bear will be a little different, she said – It will be sort of sitting. People said it would be nice to have a laying down bear,” to help carry the idea of the bear caring for a child.
She said an artist is lined up – though she is not ready to announce her name – and that, while the bear will be done before the year is out, it won’t be ready by April.
Thomas said a gofundme page has been set up for the costs of the bear – an act, she said, which has caused some criticism and confusion with people believing the money is being raised to go to the family itself. She said the family has agreed to the fundraising, but all the money will go to the commemorative bear.
The link can be found at Gofundme.com and searching for Casey the Miracle Bear fundraiser. As of Tuesday afternoon the site had raise $315.
To help sponsor the April 6 celebration, contact Thomas at 252-571-0420 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.