DETROIT – After Gabriella Vitale went missing Monday morning, Michigan law enforcement was out in full force for more than 24 hours, frantically scouring the north Michigan woods for the 2-year-old.
But when Lt. Brandon Kieft showed up to a cabin after a Tuesday morning call, he knew he'd found her.
“I asked her if she wanted to go see mommy and she lit up – she came right to me and gave me a big hug,” Kieft said in a statement.
Kieft, a conservation officer with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, was the first responder at the Oscoda cabin after his station got a call from a vigilant retreat group.
Gabriella's family from Monroe, Michigan, was camping in Oscoda County, about 170 miles northwest of Detroit, when the 2-year-old walked off around 8:30 a.m. Monday. After an unsuccessful search of its own, the family called 911.
While state police, local police, and the Department of Natural Resources searched the area through the early hours of Tuesday, an Oscoda retreat group was monitoring the news, watching for updates on Gabriella's situation.
The group called the Department of Natural Resources on Tuesday morning: They believed the young girl now standing on the front porch of their cabin was the child they'd seen on the news.
Kieft positively identified the girl as Gabriella when he got to the cabin and was able to take her – by then pant-less, shoe-less and only wearing half a shirt – back to the natural resources station, where she received water and a cookie.
The 2-year-old had an emotional reunion with her family members when they arrived soon after.
While Gabriella's 27-hour journey through the woods left her with just a few scrapes and bruises, the toddler was evaluated to make sure all was well.
“It was great how many people came together to help. Gabriella’s family was there, also helping,” Kieft said in a statement. “There were several law enforcement agencies involved, we all put in hard work and were very lucky.”
Follow Emma Keith on Twitter: @emma_ckeith
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: How missing Michigan girl Gabriella Vitale was found