Rescued 3-year-old endured heavy rain, freezing temperatures alone in the woods

A 3-year-old boy found alive two days he went missing was "meant to survive" as he endured heavy rains and cold temperatures by himself in the woods, the local sheriff said.

"What he survived out there -- temperatures in the 20s, low 20s, the rain, the downpour that almost put our search on a standstill," Craven County Sheriff Chip Hughes told ABC New Bern affiliate WCTI Friday morning. "This kid, he's strong. He was meant to survive. He's a survivor."

Casey Hathaway was found Thursday night after he went missing Tuesday in wooded Craven County, North Carolina.

Casey is in good condition and resting, Dr. Nicole Check of the Carolina East Medical Center said Friday morning.

After days of desperate searches for the little boy, crews on Thursday night responded to a report of a child crying in the woods and found Casey "about 40 to 50 yards in the woods, tangled up," Hughes said.

Linda Fraker, who happened to be walking her dogs in the area where Casey would eventually be found, said she thought she heard crying and flagged down a deputy involved in the search.

"I just heard a small cry," Fraker told New Bern ABC affiliate WCTI. "It was really faint. I wasn't sure if it was a cry because they were searching for him and calling his name."


Casey was soaking wet but had his coat on, Hughes said, and "he wanted water -- and his mom."

"He did say that he had a friend in the woods that was a bear," the sheriff added.

The little boy was rushed to the hospital..

"Just the look on his face when his little sister came in the room, it was tear-jerking," Hughes said.

"By his condition it was pretty obvious that he had been out there for the time," the sheriff told ABC News Friday.

Hughes called this one of his most emotional and rewarding cases.

"His family is so happy to have him back safe," Check added Friday.

Casey was playing outside Tuesday when he disappeared and a relative reported him missing, the FBI said.

Hundreds of professional searchers and volunteers spent Wednesday pushing through the cold, heavy rain, whipping winds and rugged terrain as they looked for the little boy.

Thursday morning, "only professional searchers are being used because of serious safety concerns with the weather," the FBI in Charlotte said.

By Thursday night, Casey was "good, he's up and talking, he's already asking to watch Netflix," Casey's mother, Brittany Hathaway, told reporters.

ABC News' Brandon Baur contributed to this report.