DNR officer: Missing girl ‘lit up’ at thought of seeing mom


Lt. Brandon Kieft with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources holds Gabriella Vitale in the search and rescue command center while waiting for her family to arrive. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

COMINS TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The first officer to arrive at a northern Michigan cabin where a missing 2-year-old girl was discovered says the toddler was excited to see her mother for the first time in more than 24 hours.

“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,” said Lt. Brandon Kieft, a conservation officer with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Kieft says Gabriella Vitale was wearing half of her T-shirt and was missing her pants and shoes when she walked up to the cabin less than a half-mile away from the campsite she wandered away from. The DNR says aside from some scrapes and minor bruises she was in “good condition for being on her own in the woods for over 24 hours.”

Gabriella takes a sip of water while holding a cookie
A July 16, 2019 photo of Gabriella Roselynn Vitale shortly after she was found at a home a half-mile away from the campsite she disappeared from more than 24 hours earlier. (Michigan State Police/Twitter)

One of the people in the cabin took Kieft and Gabriella back to the search and rescue command center where Kieft gave the girl food and water while they waited for her family and paramedics to arrive.

“It was very emotional to see Gabriella reunited with her family – her mother took her into her arms and collapsed to the floor,” Kieft said in a news release from the DNR.

Family told Michigan State Police they were packing up camp near Reber Road just west of M-33 in Oscoda County’s Comins Township when they noticed Gabriella was gone around 8:15 a.m. Monday. Around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, the 2-year-old girl reappeared on the porch of a cabin rented by a group on a work retreat.

Gabriella, who is from Monroe, was taken to a hospital for further evaluation but is expected to be OK.

The DNR says more than 20 of its conservation officers from 10 counties helped search more than 600 acres of woods and surrounding ponds for Gabriella. The search team also included a Michigan State Police helicopter, troopers, police K-9s, the United States Forestry Service, deputies, volunteers and Gabriella’s family.

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