Casey Hathaway, the three-year-old boy who survived two days lost in the woods without winter clothes earlier this month, has a surprising claim about how he made it through the ordeal.
The boy from Ernul, North Carolina wandered away from his grandmother's property last week and became lost in the woods.
Hathaway spent two days alone in the wilderness, as the wind and rain were so bad some volunteers were turned away from the search and rescue operation for their own safety.
A stroke of good luck eventually saved Hathaway, as he wandered close enough to one of his grandmother's neighbors for her to hear his cries. A professional search and rescue team found him tangled in thorn bushes nearby.
While Hathaway had a few scrapes and bruises from his time in the woods, he was otherwise in perfect health, which investigators compared to a miracle.
Now, Hathaway's family have shared an amazing claim from the young boy: that he was protected by a friendly bear. On a GoFundMe page set up by Hathaway's grandmother, the family offered the unusual tale:
"He told us that his best friend the bear was with him to help keep him safe," they wrote. "Thanks to God's mercy he came home to us alive and well."
Hathaway's aunt, Breanna, shared a similar story in a since deleted Facebook post. "Casey is healthy, smiling and talking," she wrote. "He said he hung out with a bear for two days. God sent him a friend to keep him safe."
Hathaway apparently told his tall tale to law enforcement as well, because it was repeated by Craven County Sheriff Chip Hughes to WCTI.
"He didn't say how he was able to survive and all that," Hughes said. "He did say he had a friend in the woods that was a bear that was with him."
While it sounds outrageous, Hathaway isn't the first child to claim he was protected by a bear while lost in the woods.
Way back in 1888, the New York Times reported on a two-year-old girl's claims that she had cuddled up to a bear while lost in a valley.
In 1955, another report about a lost two-year-old from Montana claimed that she was sheltered by a bear while stuck outside in the rain.
Hathaway's family says he is in good spirits after coming home, and has been watching Netflix while eating Cheetos and chicken nuggets.
The Craven County Sheriff's Office has confirmed there is no evidence of criminal activity in Hathaway's disappearance.