BROOKSVILLE, Fla. (WFLA) — Hundreds of volunteers met at a Marathon gas station in Brooksville Friday morning to start searching for missing 2-year-old Joshua “J.J.” Rowland. They were expecting the worst, but hoped for the best.
Some prayed beforehand, then they split up into teams of 10 and began their search.
“I came up on some woods and I listened good and I heard a whimpering noise,” said retired Marine Roy Link. “At that point, I was like ‘there’s no other kids here, it’s got to be JJ.'”
Link almost went fishing on Friday, but something told him to search for the toddler instead.
“Sure enough, I went into the woods and not even 100 feet from where I was at, there he was,” Link recalled. “I think he was in some stickers.”
Trish Graeme was a part of Link’s group. She said they were advised to not jump the barb wire fence to check the field, but collectively decided to anyways.
“I saw curly hair and I screamed to him, is that JJ?” Graeme recalled. “He said yes.”
“It was JJ,” she continued. “He was alive, he seemed okay, he was happy. I asked him if he was scared and he said no, I just want mommy.
Graeme says JJ held on to Link and wouldn’t let go.
“We’re screaming and yelling and here comes the four wheelers,” she said. “We’re saying, ‘We have JJ, we have JJ.”
“They loaded him up and put him on the ambulance,” she added.
Ashley Caldarella watched JJ as he was brought out of the woods and put into the ambulance.
“Seeing the mom’s face was amazing honestly,” she said. “She ran up to him and embraced him in the ambulance. It was beautiful.”
Melissa Santana didn’t know JJ or his family, but drove from Wesley Chapel to lend a helping hand.
“I felt it in my heart that he was here alive in the woods, and he was,” she said.
Finding JJ not only changed his family’s lives, but this little miracle changed the lives of everyone who showed up to help.
Brittany Spracklin was so moved by the search, she is now looking to switch careers.
“I’m actually going to apply for the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office,” she said. “I literally told them; they said, ‘you’d be perfect for this.”
She now plans to apply to be a part of HCSO’s communications team.
Some came because they knew JJ. Others because they are mothers and felt called to find him. Regardless of why they came or how they searched—it took a village to make it happen.
It ended with a happy ending they say was nothing short of miraculous.