The smiling little girl who was rescued by an Air Force team during Hurricane Katrina has been found.
Air Force Times in March interviewed La'Shay and her family and spoke to Maroney, who 10 years ago said he hoisted the then-3-year-old "#FindKatrinakid" from her New Orleans house into his hovering helicopter and took the family to the New Orleans airport. Brown's family, on the other hand, said they were picked up at the New Orleans convention center and taken to the airport.
When one of #FindKatrinakid's friends from school wrote Maroney's son on Instagram and said, "I think this is the girl who your dad is trying to find," Maroney contacted the family.
"I'm pretty sure it's her," he told Air Force Times on Wednesday. "It feels right."
People Magazine first reported the discovery of #FindKatrinakid.
When Air Force Times spoke to La'Shay's mother in March told Air Force Times that the family was picked up by an Air Force helicopter at the New Orleans convention center and flown to the airport. That would rule out La'Shay Brown and her family -- whose story contradicts Maroney's that the family was whcih was picked up at the convention center--not hoisted from their flood threatened home.
The smiling Katrina girl has been located,
The search for #Katrinakid went viral after Air Force Times posted a story about Maroney's effort to reconnect with her. Thousands of Military Times followers on Facebook and Twitter joined in the search to find her.
The smiling Katrina girl has been located, thanks to thousands of Military Times followers on Facebook and Twitter.
the smiling Katrina girl has been located.
La'Shay Brown shown here in a 2014 photo.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of La'Shay Brown
viral effort to find her and reached out to Military Times.
Air Force Times.
And she's was just catching up with the massive worldwide effort to media campaign - including television reports - to find her. together with the Air Force veteran Master Sergeant Mike Maroney man who rescued her.
Seeing herself on TV Monday night "was amazing," she said.
And even though she doesn't remember Maroney, she said she would like to meet him.
What would she say to him?
They plan to reunite the weekend of Sept. 19-20.
From that day on, Maroney said he had wondered what happened to the smiling girl in pigtails and initiated an effort to locate her. Military Times learned of his quest and ramped up the effort, with reports running in nationwide media, including USA Today and broadcast outlets.
After the Katrina rescue mission ended, the photo of the two of them, shot by an Air Force photographer, seemed to show up everywhere: on coinage and paper place mats at the base exchange, on phone cards, and a magazine cover.
For many who saw it — a little girl in a pink shirt and pigtails, arms flung around the neck of the pararescueman who'd hoisted her from the flooded ruins of her family's New Orleans home — the image depicted the best of the response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster.
Maroney in March said he remembers the descent between treetops and power lines, a precarious hover the helicopter pilot pulled off with expert precision.
has always wondered what became of that little girl.
In the nearly 10 years that have gone by, the photo's prominence has faded. But not for the Maroney who wants to reconnect with the girl.
At the time, Maroney was assigned to the 58th Rescue Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.
From the helicopter, the little girl excitedly pointed out her home and her school. She reached out to rub her mother's back as the woman cried, Maroney said in March.
Sandra Brown, La'Shay's grandmother, who was also rescued that day, remembered that La'Shay's mother, Shawntrell Brown, was terrified. "She thought the helicopter was going to crash," Sandra Brown said.
When they arrived at the airport, the place where hundreds would be deposited before departing for Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Memphis and beyond, the girl wrapped her arms around Maroney, pressed her cheek against his and smiled.
"If I never do anything else again, that hug and that smile made it all worthwhile," he said.
Maroney didn't know a combat cameraman had captured the interaction until later that night, when he received several photos from the day. He didn't know how far the image would travel until more than a year later, when he was on a deployment to Iraq. Another airman told Maroney he'd seen the image on military coins handed out as change at the base exchange.
Soon, Maroney said, "it was everywhere, on Burger King placemats and AT&T phone cards."
A foundation for fallen rescue airmen —So That Others May Live Foundation— used it on their brochures.
"I didn't expect that," said Maroney, now a civilian pararescue instructor at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.
He left active duty in August 2006 and has spent the last eight years in the Air Force Reserve, rising to the rank of master sergeant. He went to war twice after Katrina, to Iraq and Afghanistan.
It was the little girl — her picture still on his wall — that Maroney remembers above all else.
Around 2010, he sent a letter to Oprah Winfrey, believing if anyone could find her and reconnect them, it would be her. But Maroney never heard back.
He had tried on his own since then, circulating the picture online once a year or so in the hope someone might recognize her.
In March This month, Maroney uploaded a 20-minute video to YouTube recounting the story. He posted a message on the online bulletin board Reddit.com with a link to the image.
Military Times Air Force Times told the story of his quest to find Lashay—though he didn't know her name--in a story published the a story on the search Sunday night. Within 24 hours the story and photo were shared more than a thousand times. And then the break came when Lashay's cousin contacted Air Force Times.
Plans for a reunion are underway.