ST. PETER, Minn. (KMSP) - Every year, Nathan Stoffel goes deer hunting on his grandfather's land along the Minnesota River just north of St. Peter, Minnesota. But this year, he got much more than he bargained for during a deer drive on Saturday afternoon.
"It was the hunt of a lifetime, definitely," Stoffel said.
FIRST REPORT - Deer hunter finds missing girl clinging to tree
The 28-year-old volunteer firefighter for the Cleveland Minnesota Fire Department knew Mya Arriaga had been missing since early Friday morning, when a motorist spotted her walking on the Highway 99 bridge in her pajamas and no shoes.
He and several friends and family members were keeping an eye out for her as they looked for deer a few miles north of where she was last seen.
That's when something in the water clinging to a branch just a few feet from shore caught Stoffel's eye.
"I knew right away that shouldn't be there. That's something out of the ordinary," Stoffel said.
At first Stoffel thought it was a body, but as he called 911, Mya moved her right arm. After realizing she was alive, he threw a line to her in the rushing water, but the 12-year-old who has autism and doesn't speak, didn't seem to understand what it was for.
"She never really made eye contact with me and I was like, 'Help is here. It's on the way!' She was shivering and that's when she turned her head and looked at me and it sent chills down my spine," Stoffel said.
Minutes later, a rescue boat made its way to them and three men on it pulled Mya to safety.
"I feel pretty excited she made it and I'm sure the rest of the guys here feel the same way," Stoffel said.
In a statement, Mya's mother, Katrina Arriaga, said she's relieved her daughter has been found.
"Our family would like to thank the community for their thoughts and prayers, and requests privacy at this difficult time," Arriaga wrote.
Mya Arriaga is listed in fair condition at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.