A picture of a little girl hugging her rescuer came to symbolize the hope amid Hurricane Katrina’s destruction ten years ago.

For Master Sgt. Michael Maroney, the man in that iconic photo, it symbolized a decade-long mystery that finally was solved–and an emotional reunion as a reward.

Maroney, an Air Force para-rescue specialist, didn’t even know at the time another Airman had snapped the photo of the little girl, smiling broadly and giving him a giant bear hug. As a father of two, just back from the war in Afghanistan, he said that hug meant a lot to him — and even more as time went by. rainbow-over-world-trade-center-Twitter-BenSturner-leverageagency

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“When she wrapped me up with that hug, I just melted, and the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders,” Maroney told ABC News. “Everything in the world just stopped, and I wasn’t in New Orleans or in the devastation, I was just being hugged by a beautiful little girl.”

But he didn’t know the child’s name or how to find her.

Last year, a friend helped him set up a social media search with the hashtag #FindKatrinaGirl. And last week, the two met again for the first time in 10 years on an episode of the daytime talk show The Real.Coast Guard swimmer completes triathlon-distance swim to rescue 4

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LaShay Brown is 13-years-old–and taller than her rescuer now – but one thing hasn’t changed.

“When she smiled, I knew it was her,” Maroney told Yahoo! News.

(WATCH their reunion video below or READ more at ABC News) Photos: USAF; The Real video – Story tip from Alex Rodriguez


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