Rescuers covered in mud and brandishing machetes emerged from a Florida swamp today, carrying an 11-year-old girl with Asperger's syndrome on a stretcher through dense alligator infested wilderness.
Nadia Bloom was discovered today by a member of her church who was searching for the girl who disappeared Friday near the swamplands around Winter Springs, Fla.
Bloom's family and police stood on the edge of the woods, waiting for rescuers to bring home the girl who police said suffered only from bug bites and dehydration.
"We are overwhelmed by the love of everybody… Everyone across the country praying," the girl's father Jeff Bloom, told reporters once the girl was safely out of the woods and was placed in an ambulance.
According to ABC News affiliate WFTV, she was discovered waist deep in water by James King, a member of Metro Church in Winter Springs.
King, who exited the woods with a team of sheriff's deputies, was covered in mud, his shirt soaked with sweat.
King shouted to reporters that "God will direct your path. He directed me straight to her because I prayed."
King called police from his cell phone at 8:30 a.m., telling them he found the girl. Police pinged his cell phone to determine the general location he was calling from, but only pinpointed him when the rescuer climbed a tree and threw a roll of toilet paper to signal a passing police helicopter.
When rescuers reached Bloom, she said: "I'm glad you guys found me. I can't believe you rescued me," according to Winter Springs Police Chief Kevin Brunelle.
Police are questioning King to better learn how he found the girl, but say for now, "he is a hero."
The girl's father said, "Our daughter is a nature lover. She went on a bike ride and stopped and went off to take some pictures."
Jeff Bloom said the outpouring of prayer and help in the search "shows the compassion of the human spirit. It should give everyone encouragement... It really should."
To celebrate her rescue, the Metro Church planned a potluck dinner for the town in its parking lot with restaurants donating food, followed by a religious service to give thanks. Nadia family and her rescuer were expected to attend.
Police said the woods were too thick to evacuate Nadia by helicopter and she was carried out of the woods by 15 deputies.
"She's doing surprisingly well. She has bug bites and some dehydration," said Brunelle.
"If I never believed in miracles, I sure do now," the chief added.
Brunelle said Bloom's parents spoke to the girl via cell phone while waiting for her to be brought out of the woods.
The evacuation, Brunelle said, had been hampered by dense brush and heat, which fatigued the team of rescuers.
"She should be able to walk. We don't want her to, but she should be able to," Brunelle said.
A paramedic who helped to transport the girl supplied her with fluid intravenously.
After a nearly 96-hour ordeal, police were preparing to call off the rescue operation and assume the girl had died.
"It was getting to that bewitching hour where I had to make a decision and I wasn't looking forward to it," Burnelle said of switching from a rescue to a recovery operation.
Her mother called police Friday afternoon when she found her daughter's abandoned bike with her helmet left on the handlebars.
Bloom's sister told police she believed her sister may have been inspired by the children's book "Lanie" to go into the woods near Lake Jesop to film a nature documentary.
Search teams have employed sniffer dogs, dive teams, a helicopter and a vehicle equipped with sonar to probe the thick woods and inky lake. Rescuers were prompted by the girl's parents to leave bottle of water and notes urging Bloom to remain in place scattered through the woods.
Authorities said Nadia's parents, Jeff and Tanya Bloom, described their daughter as having "ADD [attention-deficit disorder], anxiety and autism, with characteristics that are described as having Asperger's. Nadia is gifted in verbal communication, but behind in nonverbal."
People with Asperger's often have awkward physical interactions. They may avoid eye contact, talk extensively and be unaware that others want to change the subject, have few facial expressions, have a monotonous or unusually fast manner of speaking, and obsess over one or two narrow subjects.