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One Moment Can Change Everything
Sometimes it only takes one moment to change someone’s life forever. Hurricane Katrina destroyed many lives when it hit Louisiana, and the tales of heartache are numerous, but there were also stories of heroism, joy and hope. Despite the devastation that the storm rained down on the state, many of the residents found something worth living for. LaShay Brown was only a toddler during the time Katrina hit, but her heroic rescue by Sergeant Mike Maroney is simply inspiring…
No one could have ever imagined that Hurricane Katrina would hit New Orleans with the force that it did in 2005. What started out as a tropical storm with no clear path, soon transformed into one of the deadliest hurricanes to ever hit the United States. With a mandatory evacuation that came hours too late, the city’s population clogged the streets in attempts to escape. Unfortunately, a significant portion of the city didn’t have vehicles and were forced to remain in their homes and ride out the storm.
Fleeing for Safety
Many people chose to leave their homes, belongings and animals behind and flee to the local shelters. Sadly, some of these attempts to find safety were all in vain due to the sudden flooding and blocked roadways. Shelters quickly filled up as well, as panic set in over New Orleans.
The Day It All Went Down
Hurricane Katrina passed over New Orleans on August 29, 2005 as a monstrous Category 5 storm. The winds in the downtown area registered as a Cat. 1, which created massive tidal surges that flooded the popular downtown districts. In the end, over 80% of the city was submerged in water.
The damage to New Orleans and the surrounding areas was catastrophic. It was determined that the damage costs were well over $70 billion. Even more tragic, was over 2,000 souls lost their lives during the storm, placing a dark cloud over the city and its residents.
Homeless and in Need of Rescue
After the storm, thousands of people found themselves without homes and stranded in water submerged areas. The government immediately jumped into action, trying to figure out how to help the city residents, especially those in underprivileged areas. The Coast Guard saved roughly over 34,000 people during their rescue missions and even the Air Force was brought in to rescue people by air in some of the more dangerous areas.
Saving the Brown Family
Sergeant Mike Maroney was a para-rescue specialist who played a role in the rescue attempts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It was during one of these missions he spotted LaShay Brown and her family who were caught up in the violent floods. In a heroic maneuver, Maroney managed to save the Brown family, but it was what LaShay did next that would change his life forever.
The Hug That Changed It All
Only minutes after Maroney rescued the young LaShay, she immediately wrapped her arms around him and gave him the biggest hug, a smile of pure joy on her face. The moment was captured by the local media, and made headlines around the world. It was a beautiful display of the innocent gratitude of a child and it had a major impact on Maroney’s life for years to come.
A Wonderful Moment
“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 … the embrace she gave me was enough to refill my tank, and we went back out and began picking up more people. On that day, it was exactly what I needed.”
Mike would go on to save over 140 people during his time rescuing families from Katrina.
Maroney would take part in several tours of Afghanistan after Katrina, and no matter how dark the times were, he always remembered the sweet little girl from New Orleans. He even kept the photograph with him as a reminder of why he chose the path he did in life. It was a light at the end of a dark tunnel for Maroney.
The Effects of PTSD
Upon completing his service with the Air Force, Maroney unfortunately developed PTSD after going through some seriously tough times in the war zones of Afghanistan. Yet despite his condition, he took comfort in the picture and began to wonder what had happened to the little girl, who would now be a teenager.
Where Could She Be?
Time passed. Maroney forgot about finding the girl for a while, but then one day he remembered and became quite motivated to find and meet the girl who had had such an impact on his life. Not sure what to do, Maroney launched a social media campaign on Instagram with the hopes of finding her. Unfortunately, it was a massive failure and only garnered 42 likes. Defeated, Maroney gave up, realizing finding the girl was unrealistic.
It would be a couple years later in 2015 that Maroney decided to search for the girl again. Creating the hashtag #FindKatrinaGirl, the former Air Force member was determined to meet the girl who had changed his life. Thankfully, luck was on his side and over a decade after their first chance meeting, they would be reunited thanks to the producers of a U.S. talk show tracking her down.
Reunited At Last
“You rescued me, more than I rescued you,” Maroney told Brown during their reunion on the show, The Real. While Brown didn’t remember much of the Katrina rescue, Maroney did. He let her know that she was very thankful and even pointed out her flooded home and school.
A New Friendship
No one would have imagined that after their reunion, a friendship would blossom between Maroney and Brown, but now the two have grown very close. Maroney calls the Brown family on a regular basis and he has even given LaShay swimming lessons. It seems these two were destined to make an impact on one another’s lives.
Leading by Example
Inspired by Maroney’s time in the Air Force, LaShay decided to join her school’s JROTC program. Designed as a pre-training program for students looking to join one of the U.S.’s branches of the armed forces, Brown is now hoping to follow in Maroney’s footsteps.
Up to the Challenge
“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.” Brown revealed as her reason for joining the JROTC program.
The JROTC Ball
As the friendship between Maroney and LaShay grew, the time came for her JROTC ball. LaShay knew exactly who she wanted to take and of course, Maroney said yes. He revealed he would do anything to repay the hug he received from all those years ago and that he considered the Brown’s family.
Plans to Enlist
After spending time in the JROTC program, LaShay has made the decision she wants to definitely follow in Maroney’s footsteps and join the military. While she’s still unsure which branch she will enlist in, she knows time will begin to light the way for her on which path to take.
Support You Can Count On
Maroney, of course, will be there to support her every step of the way. “I am proud of her no matter what she does and will support her in everything she does,” Maroney told People. “I think she understands service, and I believe that she will do great things no matter what she chooses.”
The Power of Fate
For both Maroney and Brown, fate has proved that their chance meeting was one that was meant to be. Brown gained so much more than a rescuer, but a mentor and a friend she could look up to. As for Maroney, he gained a new purpose in life. He plans to tour the country, talking about his experiences in the Air Force and motivate others to enlist and serve their country.
“Life in service to the planet is important whether serving in the military or as a teacher, nurse or volunteer. Service makes life that much more appreciated.”