BROOKSVILLE, Fla. (WFLA) — A Marine Corps veteran who combed through the woods to find a missing Brooksville toddler was awarded by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement on Monday.
Back in February, Roy Link said he set out to go out fishing that day, but when he learned of 2-year-old Joshua “J.J.” Rowland’s disappearance, he was compelled to join the search.
The toddler wandered away from his home on Feb. 23 while his mother was sleeping. Hundreds of people answered the call to join in the search as it stretched into the next day, with first responders combing through wooded areas and nearby bodies of water in a race against time.
Link worked for the Hernando County Parks Department for over 30 years and chose to search a wooded area at Ernie Wever Youth Park.
“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.’”
After walking about 100 feet into the woods, Link found the toddler.
“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 fought back tears of joy as he recalled the rescue and seeing J.J. reunited with his worried parents.
“I was just so happy, so happy I found him, so happy he’s alive and well,” he said. “Just seeing the parents reuniting with him, I couldn’t ask for a better day, better outcome.”
Link received the Citizen of the Year award from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement on Monday. The Florida Missing Children’s Day ceremony in Tallahassee honored law enforcement and child safety advocates for their work in missing children’s investigations.
“As a parent, I know that there is nothing more terrifying than the thought of your child going missing. Every child in our state should feel safe and protected,” Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis wrote in a statement. “Thankfully, Florida has a robust safety network in place to find missing children and return them home quickly and safely. Thank you to FDLE and our dedicated law enforcement personnel statewide for working to protect Florida’s families and children.”