BROOKSVILLE, Fla. (WFLA) — What was supposed to be a day of fishing turned into a miraculous rescue for a Brooksville man who decided to spend his morning looking for a missing child instead.
The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office said 2-year-old Joshua “J.J.” Rowland wandered away from home Thursday morning while his mother was sleeping.
J.J.’s disappearance sparked a massive search by both law enforcement and volunteers as they combed the Brooksville area for any sign of the toddler.
Marine Corps veteran Roy Link originally planned to spend his Friday morning, but when he learned of the disappearance of a toddler in Brooksville, something told him to join the search instead.
“I actually had my boat hooked up to my truck this morning,” Link said. “I was going fishing. Something told me no, gotta do this.”
The veteran said he used to be the supervisor for the Hernando County Parks Department for 32 years. He knows Ernie Wever Youth Park well and thought he’d search for little J.J. there.
“I went across a field of grass, I came upon some woods, and I listened good,” he said. “I heard kind of a whimpering kind of noise, and that point I was like ‘there’s no other kids here. It’s gotta be J.J.'”
Link walked about 100 feet into the woods, and lo and behold, there was J.J.
“He was real happy, and he wanted mom,” Link said. “Deputies showed up. I guess I made a friend real quick ’cause he hung onto me, and he didn’t want to go to anybody until his parents showed up.”
Link said it could have been anyone who could’ve found J.J., but he was happy that it was him.
“I was just so happy, so happy I found him, so happy he’s alive and well,” he said after fighting back tears of joy. “Just seeing the parents reuniting with him, I couldn’t ask for a better day, better outcome.”
Aside from a few scratches, J.J. seemed to be doing well and was happy to be found, according to both Link and Sheriff Al Nienhuis.
The veteran said he was amazed that the child managed to survive a day in the wild, saying some adults wouldn’t have made it that long either.
“Maybe he’ll end up being my hiking buddy when he gets older,” Link said.
Online commenters praised Link for saving the 2-year-old, some saying he deserves a new fishing boat or the key to the city.
“Roy did his service in the Marines,” one person wrote. “We as Americans should do something for him. Yes, he was a volunteer but Roy [deserves] the best.”