It’s a spring day in Florida, and 11-year-old local girl Nadia Bloom is all set for a big adventure. Wearing her trusty backpack “for her treasures,” she mounts her bike and sets off to explore the local woods. But when she doesn’t return that evening, her parents raise the alarm. For four agonizingly long days, the Blooms, emergency services and volunteers anxiously sweep the dangerous nearby swamps, terrified to think of the little girl alone in the wild. Then one searcher hears a faint sound.
Nadia lived with her parents, Jeff and Tanya, and two sisters, seven-year-old Sophia and Victoria, in Winter Springs, a city some 15 miles north of Orlando, FL. At just a little more than one week old, Victoria was the newest addition to this happy family unit.
On April 9, 2010, young Nadia decided that she wanted to go for a ride on her bike. As a keen lover of the great outdoors, she hoped that it would be an opportunity to get closer to nature. So, after getting permission from her parents, she grabbed her helmet and backpack and headed out the door.
Although Nadia suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of autism that affects her non-verbal communication skills, Jeff and Tanya were not worried about her exploring so close to home. But when the girl failed to return, her parents grew ever more concerned.
When Tanya went out to the woods to look for her daughter, she was confronted by a terrifying sight. There was Nadia’s bike, with her helmet still hanging from the handlebars — but the child was nowhere to be seen. Realizing that her little girl was properly missing, Tanya alerted the police.
Soon, the whole community had mobilized to search for the missing Nadia. As police used sniffer dogs, sonar technology and a helicopter to scan the area around the Blooms’ home, volunteer rescuers came together to comb the thickly wooded, sub-tropical terrain.
But it wasn’t just the fact that Nadia was unaccounted for that had would-be rescuers concerned. Terrifyingly, the area she had chosen to explore was close to Lake Jesup, notorious for being one of the region’s most alligator-infested bodies of water.
As night fell on the first day of Nadia’s disappearance, Jeff and Tanya were advised to try and get some rest. “That was the hardest walk home ever,” Tanya confessed in a 2010 interview with TV news program Today. And even when they tried to get some sleep, they found it impossible to put images of their lost daughter out of their tortured minds.
“It was hardest when it gets dark,” Jeff told Today. “And you just don’t know if she’s crying scared or what condition she’s in. It’s a terrible feeling.” Within a few hours, Nadia’s parents were back at the frontline of the search. Sadly, hope was beginning to fade.
As the days slowly went by, the chances of finding Nadia alive seemed to grow ever more slim. Soon, police divers began dragging the depths of Lake Jesup, in case the unfortunate girl had come to grief there. Mercifully, they came up empty handed. Nadia seemed to have completely vanished without a trace.
For four heartbreaking days, the Blooms waited anxiously for news of their missing girl. And each night they were forced to go to bed to try and get some rest, without knowing where Nadia was or whether she was safe. On the morning of the fifth day of Nadia’s disappearance Kevin Brunelle, Chief of Police for the City of Winter Springs, knew he had a tough choice to make.
By that point, Nadia had been missing for almost 96 hours. “It was getting to… where I had to make a decision and I wasn’t looking forward to it,” Brunelle said in a 2015 interview with ABC News. He knew they had to consider the possibility that the girl was dead, and that the rescue mission may have to become one of recovery instead.
That same morning, local man James King had set out at sunrise in search of the missing girl. A member of the same church as the Blooms, he had spent the previous day with a group of volunteers investigating the area around Lake Jesup. But although he had planned to join the same search party later that day, something told him to leave his home early and head east towards the sunrise.
As King made his way through the mud of the swamplands, he repeatedly called out Nadia’s name. For hours he macheted a path through the jungly environment. Then suddenly in the middle of dense vegetation — only about a mile from the Blooms’ home — King heard a weak response to his cries. “I heard, ‘What?’” he told Today. Following the tiny voice for some 120 feet, he came across Nadia, perched on a log hidden by the wild wood.
Amazingly, Nadia appeared to be unharmed — despite having spent four days lost in an area teeming with man-eating gators and deadly snakes. Aside from being desperately thirsty, suffering scores of bug bites, some scratches and waterlogged feet, she was in surprisingly good shape. A relieved King handed the girl some drinks and snacks, and dialed 911.
But Nadia’s ordeal wasn’t quite over yet. Although King was able to give the police their co-ordinates, the helicopter could not locate them through the thick canopy. Ever resourceful, King took out a roll of toilet paper and festooned the area with tissue to indicate their position. Eventually, a team of 15 deputies arrived and were able to carry the girl out of the dense woods on a stretcher to safety.
The deputies found Nadia remarkably lucid, despite everything that she had been through. “I’m glad you guys found me,” she is reported to have told the party. “I can’t believe you rescued me.” Thankfully, after just one week in hospital, Nadia was able to return home and be reunited with her ecstatic family.
But how had little Nadia survived for so long without food or water, in one of the state’s most hostile environments? Apparently, she ate spongy green plants that she found in the water, and slept in hollow trees or underneath bushes and tree stumps when darkness fell.
Despite her ordeal, Nadia certainly got her opportunity to get closer to the nature that she loves. During an interview with magazine TV show Good Morning America, she enjoyed listing the creatures that she spotted in the swamp — such as lizards, hawks and owls, plus an eagle and a snake — describing them as “kind of cool.”
The Winter Springs community, meanwhile, was overjoyed to welcome Nadia home. The local Metro Church, which numbers the Blooms and James King in its congregation, organized a celebratory dinner in honor of the young girl. And while King is convinced it was his faith and the power of prayer that led him to find Nadia, even police chief Brunelle has admitted that the story beggars belief. “If I never believed in miracles,” he said to ABC News, “I sure do now.”