A babe in the woods

Horror movies are set in the woods for so many reasons. They are dark. It’s hard to know exactly where you are. A branch cracks, and you’re not sure if it’s a squirrel or a bear that’s closing in.

Now imagine being two years old, and lost in Michigan’s northwoods.

We can’t, but fear fueled our imagination yesterday when we heard the news that Gabrielle Roselynn Vitale, a Monroe County toddler, disappeared yesterday from an Oscoda campsite while her family packed up to head back downstate.

Our dread was collective.

Anyone who has ever loved anything vulnerable could relate to Gabrielle’s parents’ panic. Anyone who has ever packed up an “up north” campsite could easily picture the circumstances.

The hours ticked by, and the list of what-ifs grew longer. Her little pink coat was found and our hearts got a little heavier.

Gradually, the Comins Township campsite search captivated the country.

Tuesday morning, 50 searchers took to the woods with 10 K-9 teams.

We feared the worst after the clock ticked past 24 hours.

But then a phone call came in — that the hardy, resilient toddler had been found after spending more than 26 hours on her own.

Gabrielle turned up at a house about half a mile from where her family had last seen her — pantless, shoeless and thirsty, but otherwise just fine. She’d had the wherewithal to walk to a house — a house that had already been covered in the search.

The resident knew about the missing girl, and after a phone call, an ambulance rushed the daughter and mother together. Photos quickly surfaced of her, hair tussled, clutching a chocolate chip cookie in her chubby toddler hand.

We are so relieved that Gabriella’s OK. That she’s fine makes the world fine for a shared moment. We think our collective concern is part of what helped everyone get on the same page, and played a role in the number of volunteers helping, and the many eyes scouring the field. Our gratitude extends to the Michigan State Police, Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Oscoda County Sheriff’s Office, which coordinated a massive 26-hour air and ground search.

We take comfort in that they’d do the same for our own children.

We may never know the details of what Gabrielle experienced overnight, but that she was found turned a potential tragedy into an adventure.

Gabrielle was found “alive, well and healthy” MSP spokesman Lt. Travis House told ABC News.

“… (She) seems relatively unfazed for a 2-year-old who has been in the woods that long,” House said.

Perhaps we need to rethink how we define a babe in the woods. Or perhaps she simply wasn’t as afraid as we all were on her behalf. Either way, welcome back Gabrielle, and thank you MSP, and the many helping agencies and volunteers.

— Traverse City Record-Eagle

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