A retired Florida Marine who miraculously found a missing toddler in dense woods Friday after hearing his faint whimpers is being hailed as the Sunshine State’s “man of the year.”

Joshua “JJ” Rowland, 2, vanished Thursday after wandering away from his home in Brooksville, setting off a frantic search involving law enforcement, canines, drones, and hundreds of volunteers.

Roy Link, 62, a retired parks department worker in Hernando County, was preparing to go fishing when he heard of JJ’s disappearance and joined the desperate effort as hopes began to fade.

“Something told me no, gotta do this.” Link later told reporters.

After 24 hours passed with no sign of the tot, Link said, he was combing through a wooded area several miles from JJ’s home and strained his ears for any unusual sounds.

“I listened good,” he said. “I heard like a whimpering kind of noise and at that point, I was like, there’s no kids here, it’s gotta be JJ. And sure enough, I went in the woods, 100 feet from where I was at.”

Retired Marine Roy Link found missing Florida 2-year-old Joshua Rowland.
Hernando County Sheriff’s Office

The frightened boy reached out to Link and began calling for his mother.

“We were just talking and both of us were getting a little emotional,” Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis said alongside the local hero in a video posted to Facebook. “Little JJ climbed onto him and didn’t let go. He was so excited to see him.”

Link found the boy in a wooded area about 2 miles from his home.

A 911 call captured the moments after Link made the discovery.

“Hey! I found him!” a caller, believed to be Link, says breathlessly as Rowland calls out for his mother in the background.

“How is he doing?” a dispatcher asks.

“He’s good, he’s good,” the caller answers. “Yup, he’s alive and well. I’m giving him some water and he’s wanting Mama.”

Link said Rowland wouldn't let go of him until his parents arrived.
Link said JJ wouldn’t let go of him until his parents arrived.
Hernando County Sheriff’s Office

Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis praised Link as a hero.
Hernando County Sheriff’s Office

The retiree said little during the brief appearance with Nienhuis, noting only that he asked for a little help while searching for the boy.

“I just want to add that I said a prayer about 10 minutes before I found him,” he said with a smile.

The humble hero marveled at his instant bond with the shaken tot.

“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,” he said.

Joshua Rowland
Rowland suffered minor cuts and is back with his family.

Aside from some scratches and bruises, JJ fared remarkably well after a full day in the woods and is back with his family.

“Maybe he’ll end up being my hiking buddy when he gets older,” Link said.