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It wasn't until this February that the story started gaining traction, when 16 year old Andrew Goard from Waterford, Mich., launched the FindKatrinaGirl campaign.
"The whole neighborhood told us they saw LeShay on the news and everybody told us someone was looking for her," her mother Men Canada Goose Foxe Bomber Navy Outlet Nz told People. After she saw the photo, Shawntrell Brown said: "I knew that it was her."
In September 2005, Maroney was sent to New Orleans to find survivors in Katrina's aftermath. LeShay's family was waiting to be rescued, and the young girl soon found herself in Maroney's MH 60 Pave Hawk helicopter.
"I would love to get another hug and see how she's doing," Maroney told The Washington Post at the time, noting that he still had the photo up in his home. "I'd love her to know that there isn't a day I haven't thought of her."
"I can't wait to meet her to tell her how important she is," Maroney told the magazine. "In my line of work, it doesn't usually turn out happily. This hug, this moment, was like everybody I've ever saved, that was the thank you."
The 2005 photograph showing a toddler with pigtails and an ear to ear grin holding tight to Staff Sgt. Michael Maroney was soon everywhere plastered on Burger King placemats, AT phone cards, a magazine cover.
LeShay has since said she doesn't remember the hug, but those who saw it will never forget it.
Maroney is now an Air Force Reservist who instructs pararescue jumpers in San Antonio, and for years since the rescue and hug he has been searching for the girl, posting messages on Facebook and Instagram.
The news eventually made its way back to LeShay Brown.
It was a heartening moment captured amid overwhelming bleakness: A 3 year old Hurricane Katrina survivor wrapped her chubby little arms round an Air Force pararescue jumper who had rappelled into New Orleans to save the girl's family from floodwaters.
airman finally finds Katrina survivor whose bear
The next month, Air Force Times wrote about Maroney's quest to find the girl, and the campaign went viral.
"It's okay," LeShay told her mother at the time, according to Air Force Times. "We're safe. Don't worry."
Maroney never got the child's name, and he has never stopped trying to find her.
"I was crying because I was scared . . . that was the first time I was on a helicopter, the first time I was on a plane and the first time I ever left New Orleans," LeShay's mother, Shawntrell Brown, told People magazine. "The helicopter had open doors, so I looked out and you could just see all the water over everything, and it was just too much for me, so she was comforting me."
In 2010, he said he even penned a letter to Oprah Winfrey looking for help, but he never got a reply.
"It had been such a rough week; when she wrapped me up in that hug, I was in la la land," Maroney, now 40, told The Washington Post this year. "Nothing else existed. I was just loving that hug."
She planted a bear hug on him and it was captured by an Air Force photographer.