Nathan Stoffel found more than he ever expected when he went hunting on his family’s land northeast of St. Peter, Minn.
Because he did, Mya Ann Arriaga’s family is whole again.
Mya, of St. Peter, had gone missing Nov. 11. The 12-year-old, who has autism, does not speak.
Stoffel, a volunteer firefighter in nearby Cleveland, Minn., was aware of the search as he and his hunting friends selected a spot along the Minnesota River.
Then he saw something that he had to investigate.
“I knew right away that shouldn’t be there. That’s something out of the ordinary,” Stoffel said.
It was the pajama-clad girl, clinging to a tree in the middle of the river.
Stoffel feared he had found the girl, but too late. He went to call 911, then stopped.
Mya had moved her right arm.
“As I got closer, I knew it was her. I panicked a bit,” Stoffel said. “Then I ran to her because I saw her arm moving.”
He threw the girl a line, but she did not seem to know what to do with it.
“She was shivering and that’s when she turned her head and looked at me and it sent chills down my spine,” Stoffel said.
“She made eye contact with me at one point and you could just see the fear. It was a look I will never forget,” said Stoffel, who made the 911 call to direct responders to help him.
“It’s just amazing. We are so happy at this outcome,” said St. Peter Police Chief Matthew Peters.
“This was the hunt of a lifetime. We will never forget it,” Stoffel said.
After calling 911, Stoffel tried to direct responders to where he was to help bring her to safety. She was hospitalized for a few days, mostly for exposure to the near-freezing temperatures during the night she spent in the woods.
Stoffel said although he found Mya, he did not do this alone.
“It’s my whole crew. We decided to make the drive to that location. This is the best hunting story you’ll ever have. I mean, we found a girl who had been missing for more than 30 hours. It’s definitely a great feeling,” Stoffel said.
Mya’s mother, Katrina Arriaga, was deeply appreciative of the efforts made by Stoffel and the other first responders to save her daughter.
“I owe them with her life and I’ll never be able to repay them,” she said,
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