2-year-old found safe in northern Michigan woods after 24 hours alone

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OSCODA COUNTY (WJRT) - (7/16/2019) - A more than 24-hour search for 2-year-old Gabriella Vitale in a heavily wooded area of Oscoda County ended with the best possible outcome Tuesday.

Gabriella was found alive and well around 11:30 a.m.

Michigan State Police Lt. Travis House said Gabriella walked up to a residence about a quarter to a half mile west of where she was last seen around 8:15 a.m. Monday on Reber Road near M-33 northeast of Mio.

The cabin was down a long driveway near the edge of the ground searchers had already covered Monday and overnight.

"She covered quite a bit of ground. Ironically this house marked the very outside of where we'd searched so far, and the next swath of searchers would cover that area," House said.

We later learned it was a group of people inside the cabin. Eight co-workers from Axis Financial were at a retreat.

"She walked up to the door, and I was standing right there and I happened to see her out of the corner of my eye," said Mike Owens. "And I was like, 'uh, there's a girl at the door'. And I opened the door and I scooped her up."

The group gave her water and fruit, and wrapped her in a blanket. They also quickly contacted a nearby searcher.

"He said, 'Gabriella?' And you know she was, she smiled and he said, 'you want to go see mommy?' And she said, 'Momma?' And so he's like, 'this is her'. You know, she's found," Annie Coyle explained.

Gabriella was then quickly reunited with her mother.

Volunteer David Pickelhaupt watched the reunion. "Everybody's hearts were like, 'oh my gosh, thank goodness she's okay'. So, it was really heartwrenching. The family, seeing them crying, and it was really emotional," he said.

The Michigan State Police shared a picture of Gabriella eating a cookie and drinking more water before she was taken to a hospital to be checked out.

"She's been without water probably for more than 24 hours. They want to get her in and get her checked out," House said. "But the first responders who have been with her say that she's in good shape."

House said Gabriella was "alive, well and healthy" when she showed up at the cabin.

"She is missing her bottoms and her shoes, but seems relatively unfazed for a 2-year-old who has been in the woods that long," House said.

"I don't think any of us are going to forget this moment, I mean forever," Coyle added.

Lt. House is grateful for the volunteers from the community who stepped up in a moment's notice and worked alongside those who have done this before.

"A lot of us here are dedicated to service anyway, but we're also a parent of small children ourselves," House said. "And I know a lot of people out there viewing are as well and our hearts have been with Gabriella this whole time, so it's a real, real pleasure to be able to announce that she's found."

Gabriella's mother, Alyssa Bijarro, issued the following statement Tuesday afternoon:

“We would like to express our thanks to God for keeping our sweet Gabriella safe. Thank you to the countless public safety officers, first responders, and those that helped locate our girl. We are forever grateful to the Fairview Community, especially the local, state and DNR officers. Please continue to keep our family in your prayers as we hold Gabriella in our arms.”

The Michigan State Police, Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Oscoda County Sheriff's Office coordinated a massive air and ground search.

The Michigan State Police Emergency Support Team joined the search on Tuesday morning. Volunteers also continued coming to offer assistance with the ground search.

More than 50 searchers were in the woods Tuesday morning, including 10 K-9 teams.

Gabriella, who lives in Monroe, disappeared from a campsite in a densely wooded area. Investigators said she had been camping with her family since late last week. Her family told authorities they were packing up their campsite when she walked off into the woods.

Copyright 2019 WJRT. All rights reserved.

Read the original version of this article at abc12.com.

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