There was very little good news that came out of New Orleans in 2005. Hurricane Katrina devastated the city and left many dead. Numerous people were forced to flee and never moved back. Yet this image of hope was one bright spot in the chaos.
And now, twelve years later, there’s an update to the story.
First, let’s go back. Almost a week after the hurricane hit, the flooded areas in Louisiana and Mississippi were still being evacuated. That’s when Maroney’s crew found the brown family, stranded.
LaShay Brown’s was thrilled to meet U.S. Air Force Master Sergeant Mike Maroney who was part of her rescue team. The photograph of the girl being rescues from the floodwaters showed a glorious moment and a rare glimpse of optimism in the midst of a natural disaster.
“It had been such a rough week, when she wrapped me up in that hug, I was in la-la land. Nothing else existed. I was just loving that hug,” Maroney said.
Now, 12 years later, Brown, who is now 14, has invited Maroney to be her date at the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps ball on Saturday.
“I’m going because I would do anything to repay the hug to LaShay and her family. They mean as much to me as my own,” Maroney told People Magazine.
“I am proud of her no matter what she does and will support her in everything she does,” he said. “I think she understands service and I believe that she will do great things no matter what she chooses.”
Maroney, wondering what had become of the girl in the photo, used social media channels to find her.
“Your hug, it helped me through hard days, and rough days,” said Maroney, who is battling PTSD. “You rescued me more than I rescued you.”
Maroney carried the picture with him after Katrina, and even took it with him on tour in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
The moment had a lasting impact on Brown, too. She’s decided to join the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC).
“It was very interesting and a challenge, and because I had never done it before. I knew if I joined I would have help from Mike along the way if I needed it, or was confused about anything,” she said.