A tense 48 hours came to an end last week for a North Carolina community after a boy who vanished from his grandmother’s yard was found alive.
Despite near-freezing temperatures, three-year-old Casey Hathaway managed to survive two days lost in a wooded area of Craven County in eastern North Carolina, with relatives calling his discovery a “miracle,” the Charlotte Observer reported.
At the time of Casey’s disappearance, he had been playing with other children in his grandmother’s yard on Tuesday afternoon. Searchers located the boy late Thursday night, approximately half a mile from his grandmother’s home, after receiving a tip from a local woman walking her dogs who believed she heard a child crying for his mother.
Search teams responded to the woman’s 911 call, and found Casey a short distance away, “stuck in a tangle of vines and thorns,” said Craven County Sheriff Chip Hughes in a press conference shortly after the rescue. Casey was quiet after he was discovered and reportedly expressed that he wanted to watch Netflix, his mood improving once he was reunited with his sister, according to family members.
Shortly after Casey’s rescue, his aunt, Breanna Hathaway, posted on Facebook that Casey said he “hung out with a bear” while he was missing.
“He said he hung out with a bear for two days,” Hathaway wrote. “God sent him a friend to keep him safe.”
The statement about the “bear” has attracted a lot of attention, even becoming the centerpiece for an Inside Edition report. Naturally, when something curious like this arises in relation to a disappearance, comments appearing on various articles online were rife with the usual speculations:
"Show him a picture of a bear, then a Sasquatch. I think you'll get a surprising answer."
"God sent [the bear] to protect the boy and keep him warm an safe."
Others have argued that if there had actually been a bear with Casey, the animal would more likely have consumed him, rather than nurture or protect him. While there are some black bears in Eastern North Carolina, it is a popular misconception that these animals are aggressive. They are, however, omnivorous, and studies in the last decade have shown that incidents where black bears have attacked and eaten humans generally involve male members of the species, who are particularly hungry during seasons when their normal food supply is unusually scarce.
Craven County Sheriff Chip Hughes said in an interview with WCTI News Channel 12 in New Bern that the boy didn’t say "how he was able to survive and all that,” and that Casey "did say he had a friend in the woods that was a bear that was with him.” The sheriff mentioned that the bear had been with him "for two years," although it seems evident that he meant two days, the period that Casey remained missing.
No Amber Alert was issued, according to Hughes, because there was never any suspicion that the child had been a victim of a kidnapping, or that a third party may have been involved with his disappearance. Of course, questions remain as to how, precisely, the boy was able to last two days in the wilderness, particularly in damp conditions and temperatures that dipped into the 20s at night.
This, of course, brings us back to Casey's statements about a "bear" that accompanied him while he was in the forest. A GoFundMe page was set up after Casey's recovery, entitled "Casey and the Bear." It states that, "He told us that his best friend the bear was with him to keep him safe. Thanks to God’s mercy he came home to us alive and well."
As one would expect, this has led to a large amount of speculation about the bear, whether it existed, and if so, whether it was indeed a bear. It should first be noted that the description on the GoFundMe page, which reads "his best friend the bear," would almost seem to indicate that Casey was referring to an imaginary friend (a point that we'll address in greater depth in a moment). As a matter of pure speculation, one alternative could be that Casey saw or interacted with a large dog, or perhaps had actually observed a bear at some point while he was lost. And there are, of course, the more wild speculations about this statement that insinuate Casey's "bear" might actually be a Sasquatch which, as we saw earlier, presently fill the comment sections on various articles and videos appearing online.
However, there is another aspect of Casey's story (what little we actually know about it at present, that is) which explores a possible psychological component to his adventure alone in the wilderness. This may also be somewhat in keeping with the idea of an imaginary friend, or something akin to it.
In his 2008 book The Third Man Factor: Surviving the Impossible, author John Geiger details several instances of apparent survival against the odds in harsh or extreme conditions. In many of the cases his book outlines, the survivors of such situations described having been helped or otherwise accompanied by companions that ranged from people and animals, to sometimes little more than a sort of "ghostly" presence.
“All have escaped traumatic events only to tell strikingly similar stories of having experienced the close presence of a companion and helper,” Geiger wrote. Such stories tell of prisoners of war, aviators, astronauts, and even 9/11 survivors.
There is also a very unusual case Geiger outlines which may have some relevance to Casey Hathaway's remarkable survival against the odds. In his book, Geiger discusses a 1953 incident in the Himalayas involving Herman Buhl. A renowned Austrian mountaineer, Buhl was the first man to scale the Nanga Parbat, a 26,660-foot peak located in the Himalayas, making it the world’s ninth tallest. However, the adventure was not without incident; in his approach to the summit, Buhl was forced to bed down for the night in the absence of a tent, nor even a sleeping bag, in the freezing conditions on the mountain. Against all odds, Buhl managed to survive, later telling of having “an extraordinary feeling,” and the sense that he "was not alone.”
Buhl's famous story of survival on Nanga Parbat shares some elements with an even stranger incident, which allegedly occurred fifteen years earlier. A man identified as Captain V. D’Auvergne, who was apparently curator for a time with the Victoria Memorial (or as priamtologist John Napier called it, "the unforgettable piece of Victoriana on the Maidan") near Chowringhee, Calcutta, in the 1930s. D'Auvergne told a remarkable tale about being injured while traveling through the Himalayas in 1938, at which time he was overtaken by a fierce snowstorm. Both unable to see and unfit for travel, D’Auvergne hunkered down into the snow best he could to try and maintain warmth. At one point, he described seeing a very large, humanlike figure emerge from the raging snowstorm, which lifted the injured D'Auvergne and carried him back to the rustic grotto in which it apparently dwelt.
At least, so the story goes. D'Auvergne later immortalized the incident in a written account he published in the pages of a research society journal, claiming that his gargantuan savior had been, to again borrow John Napier's description, "a human, a survivor from prehistoric ages, a descendant of an oppressed minority group called A-o-re who had taken to the mountains and gone to seed, acquiring gigantic proportions and a number of bestial adaptations in the process."
The obvious implication here is that D'Auvergne claimed to have been rescued by a Yeti, the mythical "Abominable Snowman" of the Himalayas. We are left with a couple of interpretive assessments here: could it be that D'Auvergne's story details an actual series of events--however distorted they may have ended up being--or might the wounded and famished traveler have suffered a sort of hallucination, one where he recalled a strange creature assisting him?
In light of the second alternative (taking for granted that D'Auvergn's outlandish story might nonetheless have a grain of truth to it), the later experiences of Hermann Buhl do put it in a slightly more interesting light. In essence, was there really a "beast" that rescued d’Auvergne, or was it merely his own imagination that sheltered him from that raging storm in 1938… one which otherwise may have claimed his life?
This once again brings us back to the story of Casey and his "bear," an odd and seemingly nonsensical footnote in a young child's recollection of how he survived 48 hours alone in freezing temperatures. If we give consideration to Geiger's "Third Man Factor" here, the story may have less to do with an actual bear, and everything to do with the notion that there are faculties of the human mind that are capable of extraordinary things, especially under harsh or life-threatening conditions.