JACKSON, Wyo. - Six-year-old Naomi Pascal was crushed when she lost her teddy bear in October 2020 during a family hike at Glacier National Park in Montana.
Thanks to a sharp-eyed, compassionate ranger, Naomi and her teddy bear, aptly named "Teddy," are reunited a year later.
Naomi was a toddler when she received the teddy bear while in an Ethiopian orphanage. Ben Pascal, 44, and his wife were getting ready to adopt her and wanted to send her the stuffed animal before she arrived in the United States to live at the family’s home in Jackson, Wyoming.
"We wanted to give it to her, as kind of our first gift to her, as her adoptive parents," Ben, who’s a senior pastor at the Presbyterian Church of Jackson Hole, told FOX Television Stations Saturday.
Naomi Pascal and her teddy bear at Glacier National Park. (Credit: Ben Pascal)
"And we hadn’t met her yet in person," he continued.
Since coming to the United States, Naomi and her teddy bear were essentially inseparable. Teddy accompanied Naomi on many family trips around the world including Ethiopia, Rwanda, Croatia and Greece.
When Pascal took his kids to Montana in October 2020, Teddy was once again along for the adventure. While Pascal and a friend of his went on a hike in Glacier National Park, family friend Terri Hayden watched the kids. They were almost back to Hayden’s home in Bigfork that night when they realized they didn’t have Teddy.
"Naomi, just all of sudden goes, ‘Teddy! Where’s Teddy?’" Ben continued. "And my heart just sank."
"I was crying really hard for the rest of the way," Naomi added. "And I was really sad because he was my only, favorite stuffie."
The family searched the car for Teddy to no avail. They also spent the next few days calling rangers to see if anyone had turned it in, but no one had seen it. Their only hope was to wait for winter to pass, wait for the snow to melt and hope a hiker would spot it in the following spring.
Meanwhile, the family bought another bear for Naomi. Over the summer, Ben’s wife had asked the "Friends of Glacier National Park" Facebook group if anyone had spotted the bear. One hiker said she did in fact spot the bear but left it because she assumed the owner was nearby.
Naomi as a toddler with her teddy bear. (Credit: Ben Pascal)
It later turned out that park rangers spotted Teddy, wet and buried in the snow, during their post-season cleanup.
Ranger Tom Mazzarisi saw the stuffed animal and said the policy is to usually discard it, but he felt uneasy throwing it in the trash.
"Bears are my passion. I just didn't have the heart to throw it away," he said in a Facebook post from the park. "There was something special about this teddy bear, so I adopted him and named him Ceasar."
Park officials said Mazzarisi kept the bear on the dashboard of his patrol car.
Coincidentally, months later in the fall of 2021, Hayden was in the park and noticed the teddy bear sitting in Mazzarisi’s vehicle. Unfortunately, the ranger’s truck was locked. It was Mazzarisi’s day off and another ranger who was working on the trail had the keys. The friend left a note on the vehicle and found other rangers.
"I’m a woman of faith," Hayden said. "And that morning I said, ‘OK Lord, if this bear is around, please put that bear in my path and let me come home with that bear today.’"
Hayden was able to get the bear and shipped the bear to Naomi, who said she was really excited when she got Teddy back.
"I felt really happy," Naomi said.
Teddy is now safe and secure at the family’s home and under the watchful eye of Naomi as the touching story picks up national recognition. The story of the bear’s return has earned 12,000 likes on the Glacier National Park Facebook page.
"I guess, just as a pastor, it’s like that’s my life’s calling is to share good news and about hope and kindness," Pascal said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.