A family spokesperson who learned of the news while on the phone with The Daily Beast said that the discovery was “what we were hoping for but not what we expected.” The little girl’s family is now heading to the hospital to join her.
A search party of more than 800 people, including elite forest crews, 40 sniffer dogs, and drones searched a wooded area where Julia Sleegers disappeared with her 6-year-old brother and 9-year-old male cousin on Sunday.
The other children made their way to safety, but something they told authorities led police to issue a sketch of a “person of interest” and ask anyone who was in the forest that day to submit photos of people they might have encountered.
Police say Sleegers was responsive when she was found in a thick part of the Bohemian Forest National Park in Sumava, suffering from severe hypothermia.
The heavily wooded forest, known for its difficult terrain, is home to wild animals including wolves and has been below freezing at night since she disappeared, which begs questions about whether she survived alone or if someone helped protect and feed her.
The forest is so dangerous that police had warned local residents not to search for the girl alone or they, too, might get lost.
“We ask you not to dare to climb the mountain, but to stay down here on the streets and in the surrounding communities to keep your eyes open, simply so as not to put yourself in danger here,” a spokesman for Upper Palatinate police said Monday. “We don’t want to then have to rescue other people from the mountain or even have to look for them.”
Police say she was found by forest workers sent into the deepest part of the woodland. “Great news—the little girl has been tracked down, she will now be handed over to the paramedics,” local police announced in a tweet.
The mysterious disappearance had been compared to the 2005 case of Madeleine McCann, a 5-year-old British girl who disappeared from a holiday resort in Portugal and who has never been found. Then, too, witnesses noticed people who were later thought to be suspects in the still-unsolved case.
“Relief prevails among the emergency services on site,” one rescue worker told BR magazine. “When the good news came, the rescuers were in each other’s arms, there was cheering and clapping.”
As the days wore on, many had given up hope the little girl would be found alive, if at all.
“She is alive, she has hypothermia and has been taken to the hospital,” a spokesman for the Upper Palatinate police told reporters who had been staking out the search headquarters.