JOHNSON COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – 16-year-old Ava Zechiel is back with her family tonight after a week in the woods in Northeast Tennessee. Sheriff’s deputies and volunteers spent days looking for the 16-year-old. Members of the Black Diamond search team based in Virginia located Ava not too far from the area where she was last seen.
The Washington D.C. teen went didn’t return from hiking trip Freedom Mountain Academy, a boarding school in Johnson County Tennessee.
Her father Howard Zechiel says he’s thankful his daughter is safe.
“We are very excited thrilled to see her, you can imagine what has been going through our minds the last 6 days, just overjoyed is the word I would use,” Zechiel said.
Ava Zechiel went missing about a week ago while on that hiking trip. She somehow became separated from that group and spent the last 6 days in the Cherokee National Forest.
“She was beginning to get a little bit hungry and she still had food. She had rationed her food and she was doing fairly well,” Sheriff Mike Reece said.
Still the events leading up to Ava Zechiel’s disappearance remain unclear. We asked Sheriff Reece about what happened on that hiking trip
“There was some disagreement it seems with one of the counselors on the hike and that’s how she got separated,” Sheriff Reece said.
Sheriff Reece said Zechiel survived almost a week with the gear and food she brought with her.Ava’s father didn’t want to talk about why his daughter disappeared only that he’s grateful to search crews and happy to have his daughter back home.
“This is a wonderful day to get our daughter back, we not only got our daughter back we got to see every person we’ve ever known in our life tell us how much they love us which is wonderful.”