'We are ecstatic': Monroe girl, 2, safe after night alone in northern Mich. woods

"What a trooper! " Michigan State Police tweeted about Gabriella Vitale. "The searchers are all clearing and the command center is packing up."

Dozens of searchers didn't find her. Neither did the police, tracking dogs or a helicopter.

In the end, 2-year-old Gabriella Roselynn Vitale found herself.

The barefoot Newport girl, who had been missing in the northern Michigan woods for 27 hours, walked up to the home of a woman who then called police.

And, just like that, the tumult and trepidation was over.

"Great news!!!" the Michigan State Police said in a tweet.

Gabriella's mother, Alyssa Bijarro, thanked the multiple law enforcement agencies who had scoured the Oscoda County woods for her baby.

"We would like to express our thanks to God for keeping our sweet Gabriella safe," she said in a statement.

Gabriella Vitale

Gabriella was in good spirits and didn't seem to suffer any effects from spending the night in the woods, said police. As a precaution, she was taken to a hospital for observation.

The toddler had wandered away from a woodland campsite just northeast of Mio on Monday morning, said police.

The family had been packing up from their camping trip when they noticed the girl was missing.

She remained missing through the night and evening as the woods were searched by the state police, several sheriff's offices, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Forestry Office.

They found her pink coat several hundred yards away from the campsite.

But she would eventually travel much farther, arriving at the resident's home half a mile from where she disappeared, police said.

"She covered quite a bit of ground," said Lt. Travis House, a spokesman for the state police in northern Michigan.

She approached the resident's home at 11:30 a.m., said police.

According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, "the group of people that found Gabriella was a retreat group who had let law enforcement agents search their cabin’s property for the missing girl Monday night."

They found Gabriella on the porch the next morning, "wearing half her T-shirt and ... missing her pants and shoes," and alerted authorities.

Lt. Brandon Kieft, a conservation officer at the DNR, was the first law enforcement officer to arrive.

“I asked her if she wanted to go see mommy and she lit up – she came right to me and gave me a big hug,” Kieft said in the DNR statement. 

Gabriella Vitale, with Lt. Brandon Kieft of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources

The group knew the girl had been missing because of news reports that had stretched across the country.

Law enforcement officials had just resumed their search Tuesday when they learned the toddler had been found.

Gabriella was taking the whole thing in stride, said police.

"(She) seems relatively unfazed for a 2-year-old who's been in the woods overnight," said House.

It wasn't the most accommodating terrain for a toddler, he said. The woods included swamps and wetlands, he said.

She caught a break with the weather, which was warmer than usual for northern Michigan. Temperatures reached a low of 72 overnight, compared to the usual 56 for this time of year, said the National Weather Service.

Because of the girl's age, police will likely never know how she was able to navigate the wild.

"She's only 2 and not overly verbal, so exactly what she experienced might be a mystery," said House.

The woman's home was on the outskirts of the grid where law enforcement officials had been searching, said House.

The area where the woman lived was going to be the next place they looked, he said.

 "We are ecstatic she’s been found," said House. "She certainly helped by finding a residence."

Bijarro said she was relieved the nightmare was over.

"Please continue to keep our family in your prayers as we hold Gabriella in our arms," she said.


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