TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - A missing 11-year-old central Florida girl with an autism-related disorder was found alive by a family acquaintance on Tuesday, four days after she disappeared into an alligator-infested swamp a half-mile from her suburban home.
Fifth-grader Nadia Bloom was taken to a hospital where she was evaluated and treated for dehydration and insect bites, said Winter Springs Police Chief Kevin Brunelle.
"If I never believed in miracles, I sure do now," Brunelle said during an afternoon news conference.
It took nearly two hours for rescuers to carry Nadia out of the thick brush and swamp. James King, who goes to church with Nadia's family, found her in a dry patch in the middle of the swamp and called authorities. He started walking at daylight and found her several hours later, he said.
"Hey, I've got her," King said, in the 911 call. "I've got Nadia."
King said the girl had bug bites yet "no major injuries, just exposure."
King added: "The Lord told me where to find her."
A Winter Springs dispatcher asked to speak with Nadia.
"Hi," Nadia's little and weak voice said. "This is Nadia and I'm the girl that got lost."
Later in the afternoon, the medical director at South Seminole Hospital in Longwood spoke to reporters.
"She's smiling. Her vital (signs) are stable. She has some abrasions and bites. She is dehydrated and receiving (intravenous) fluids and wound care," said Dr. Rakish Parekh. "She is doing remarkably well."
By 8 p.m., Geo Morales, a spokesman from the hospital, said that Nadia's family requested privacy and said he could not release any information about her, including whether she was still being treated.
Brunelle said Tuesday night that he wasn't sure if Nadia had gone home.
"Children can be very resilient," Brunelle said. "Especially Nadia. She's a driven young lady, and she surprised a lot of people today."
Nadia's discovery was a welcome - and rare - event in a state that has been plagued with missing children.
Brunelle said Nadia told rescuers two things: "I'm glad you guys found me" and "I can't believe you guys rescued me."
Her sister has said Nadia, who has Asperger syndrome, may have gone into the dense woods around their Winter Springs home hoping to make a nature video.
When King found her, he gave her a nutritional shake, an apple and some water.
During the 911 call, King asked Nadia if he could take her photo, "so you can show how God protected you."
"Sure!" Nadia replied.
King then unfurled toilet paper around a tree in an attempt to draw attention to where they were. Brunelle then dispatched a helicopter to look for the pair, but it didn't work.
Using cell phone signals, authorities found them.
"Mr. King is a hero right now," said Brunelle. "He led us to her."
Brunelle added that detectives are questioning both King and Nadia for more details about the rescue and how the girl spent her time while she was missing.
Brunelle did say that Nadia told them that she had not talked to anyone since going into the woods on Friday.
Authorities began searching for her in wooded areas near Lake Jesup, one of the most alligator-filled lakes in Central Florida. She was last seen riding her bike and authorities became alarmed when they found it and her helmet in her neighborhood. She did have a backpack with her.
Shortly after word came that Nadia was alive, her father briefly spoke to the media.
"It all came so fast and it just shows the compassion of the human spirit. It should give everybody encouragement," Jeff Bloom told reporters after rescue crews lifted her into an ambulance.
When asked how he felt, Bloom said: "I can't even describe it. Let's give the glory to God."
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