It was every kid's worst nightmare: While on a hiking trail in the fall of 2020, 5-year-old Naomi Pascal lost her beloved teddy bear. But unbeknownst to either Naomi or her parents, she and her bear were destined for a happy ending.
Naomi and her parents, Ben and Addie Pascal, were walking the Hidden Lake Trail in Montana's Glacier National Park in October 2020 when they lost Naomi's beloved bear, "Teddy," according to a Facebook post from the park. And Teddy was not just any bear. Teddy was the first gift Naomi's parents gave to her before her adoption. It was 2016, and she was still living at an orphanage in Ethiopia at the time.
"She had Teddy before she ever met us," Ben Pascal said in an interview with NPR.
Ben and Addie Pascal had high hopes for the bear turning up in the days following the hike, but that didn't happen. And because they went on the hike near the end of the season, days before major snow was expected, time soon ran out. Despite checking constantly with rangers and the lost and found, Teddy's whereabouts remained a mystery, and the Pascal family had no chance but to return home to Wyoming without their bear.
It wasn't until a random encounter the following year, in October 2021, that everything changed. A friend of the family who was visiting the park happened to see Teddy sitting on the dashboard of a park ranger's truck, according to the Glacier National Park post.
"They weren't even looking for Teddy at that point. They just happened upon [him]," Pascal said.
As it turns out, Ranger Tom Mazzarisi, who monitors actual bear activity, had come across the teddy bear earlier that year after the snow melted. He was unaware of its backstory, but still felt compelled not to throw it out. Instead, he kept the bear and Teddy rode with him in his truck as an unofficial mascot, the park said. The family friend who spotted Teddy was able to get into contact with park rangers, who then made sure they were able to get the bear sent back home again.
On Oct. 6, nearly a year after Teddy was lost, Naomi, now 6 years old, was reunited with her bear. And unsurprisingly, Naomi was ecstatic to have her friend back, her father told NPR.
"She was excited. So happy. She just repeated like three times, 'Teddy! Teddy! Teddy!' " he said.
Naomi and Teddy's story was shared to the Glacier National Park Facebook page last month and has since garnered more than 12,000 likes. It's the kind of attention Ben Pascal never expected to receive, but also something he came to understand. It's a "beautiful story," he said.
"I think there's a deep connection that people have to stuffed animals and how meaningful they are to us."