When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005, Air Force Reserve Master Sgt. Mike Maroney and his team rescued a 3-year-old girl and her family.
According to AirForceTimes.com, the girl, La’Shay Brown, was rescued at the New Orleans convention center and taken to the airport. The moment, on Sept. 6, 2005, when a smiling, grateful La’Shay hugged Maroney was captured in an iconic photo that served as a sliver of hope in a desperate time.
More than 1,400 people died when Hurricane Katrina hit the area in August 2005, according to The New York Times.
In March, Maroney, who in 2005 was assigned to the 58th Rescue Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, told the Air Force Times that he wanted to find the little girl he rescued, as the 10th anniversary of the storm approached. He said he didn’t even get her name.
"He gave me the best thing that ever happened to me by taking me out of that situation. . ."
- La'Shay Brown, in a text to Military Times
So, Operation #FindKatrinakid was under way. Thousands of people used Facebook and Twitter to join the search for her.
La’Shay’s cousin saw the viral photo of the then-toddler hugging Maroney and contacted Military Times.
In a text message to Air Force Times, La'Shay said she doesn't remember the rescue. She does, however, remember being moved to Tennessee -- where she and her family lived until 2007 before returning to New Orleans.
"I was a child then," she said in a text. "But now I realize that he gave me the best thing that ever happened to me by taking me out of that situation. So I would say thank you."
Maroney’s son also received a message via Instagram saying, "I think this is the girl who your dad is trying to find." So, Maroney contacted the family.
"I'm pretty sure it's her," he told Air Force Times on Wednesday. "It feels right."
Now Maroney and La’Shay plan to meet the weekend of September 19-20.