ST. PETER, Minn. – Nathan Stoffel enjoys hunting on his family's land northeast of St. Peter, Minnesota. But this past weekend was different.
“This was the hunt of a lifetime. We will never forget it,” the 28-year-old said on Monday.
Stoffel, a volunteer firefighter in the small town of Cleveland, heard about the search for 12-year-old Mya Ann Arriaga. The girl has special needs and doesn't speak. She was reported missing from her St. Peter home early Friday.
On Saturday afternoon, Stoffel and a group of about a dozen other guys went hunting. Stoffel, knowing Arriaga might be around water, kept an eye out for her. He didn't have any expectations.
Then he found Mya, clinging to a tree in the middle of the Minnesota River.
"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 called 911 and tried to direct responders to where he was to help bring her to safety.
"She made eye contact with me at one point and you could just see the fear. It was a look I will never forget," Stoffel said.
“It’s just amazing. We are so happy at this outcome,” said St. Peter Police Chief Matthew Peters.
For his part, Stoffel says although he was the one person in his party to come across her, 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 added.
On Monday, Mya's parents released a statement thanking the community for their thoughts and prayers, and requests privacy at this time. Mya remains in fair condition at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.