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Crime

Legally Blind Woman Survived a Month in the Wild Before Being Found Naked on the Roadside: Reports

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National attention has turned to Alabama following the news that a missing 25-year-old woman was found there last weekend after apparently surviving alone in the woods in the weeks since she vanished.

Authorities tell PEOPLE that Lisa Theris was reported missing by her family to police in Troy, Alabama.

According to NBC News and the Troy Messenger, she was last heard from on July 18, reportedly in Troy — and, on Saturday afternoon, a passing motorist discovered her naked on the side of the highway in Bullock County, Alabama, some 35 miles away.

Theris, her scarred and bug-bitten body by then tanned and dirtied by her time outside, was initially mistaken for a deer, NBC reports.

“I started shaking. I was crying, I was scared, and I didn’t know what to do,” the driver who spotted Theris, Judy Garner, told NBC. “So I went over to her and asked her if she would stay there while I get water out of my van. She stayed, and I called 911 and told them I had found a girl on the road.”

Theris was visibly sluggish, Garner told NBC, and asked for the other woman to stay with her. “I don’t think she could have made it much longer,” Garner said.

She had survived by eating berries and mushrooms and drinking from creeks and puddles, authorities said, according to local TV station WKRG.

But some details remain unclear, including how exactly she came to be stuck in the woods.

“There’s a whole lot more to this story, a whole lot more to this story,” an official with the Bullock County Sheriff’s Office told ABC News. “It’s going to be sad and heartwarming at the same time, when the story’s actually released.”

“The reality of it didn’t really register until seeing and holding her in my arms in person,” Theris’ brother Will told the Messenger of learning she’d been found. “Obviously, whenever someone goes missing that long with such little evidence, one can only assume the worst. The fact that she is back in our lives is nothing short of a miracle.”

“She still has to recover. She’s been through quite a lot,” Theris’ mother, Joanne, tells PEOPLE.

Authorities told ABC News they believe Theris’ account of surviving in the woods. She told the network herself that she is legally blind and did not have a cell phone during her time in the wild, a lot of which she can’t recall. (One other survival strategy she noted: squeezing water to drink from her wet hair when it rained.)

Theris, a radiology student, also said she was set to appear in court on a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct around when she vanished. The case was dropped on Aug. 10 — two days before she reappeared — on the belief that she had died, according to ABC.

According to multiple news reports, Theris was with two Troy men around July 18 but may have fled from them when she learned they were allegedly going to steal from a hunting camp in Midway, Alabama.

However, these reports conflict about whether or not she was allegedly present with the men at the time of their theft — and, if so, how she got to the woods afterward — or if she left them earlier.

NBC News reports that the men, Manley Davis and Randall Oswald, allegedly later told investigators Theris had jumped from their vehicle en route to the camp because she did not want to participate and that they did not see her again.

Theris was found about four miles outside Midway, according to the Union Springs Herald.

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Davis and Oswald have been arrested in connection with the July 18 burglary of a hunting camp overseen by Oswald’s father, the Herald reports. They were reportedly taken into custody about two weeks after Theris disappeared and face burglary and theft charges, according to the Messenger and NBC.

Officials tell PEOPLE the men remain in jail in Bullock County and have not appeared in court or entered pleas. It was unclear Thursday if they have retained attorneys who could comment on their behalf.

They have both been questioned but not charged in connection with Theris going missing, the Messenger reports.

Neither the Bullock County sheriff nor Troy police were immediately available to comment to PEOPLE. According to local TV station WFSA, the investigation remains ongoing.

Meanwhile, Theris is speaking out about her ordeal — and her gratitude that it is over.

“I’m just so happy to be home and recuperating. I just thank everybody for the prayers and support. It means a lot,” she told WFSA. “Just being out of those woods is just the most amazing thing.”

Theris told the station her time in the rural wilderness was difficult to describe: “You can’t imagine how large of an area it was. I couldn’t believe it. I kept thinking I would find a person or a house, even if it was empty, but there was nothing. Nothing but nature. That’s it.”

“The only thing that kept me going was my family,” she said. “I just kept thinking about how I had to see my family again.”

• With reporting by CHRIS HARRIS