A 10-year-old boy is being called a hero after he rescued his grandparents and their two dogs from an icy lake.
The Flagstaff Fire Department presented Jaden Shepherd of Phoenix with the Citizen Heroism Award during a surprise visit at his grandparents’ Flagstaff home this Sunday.
Jaden was visiting his grandparents in Flagstaff on Jan. 3 when they decided to take the dogs on an afternoon walk in the snow on the golf course in the Country Club Estates neighborhood.
Suddenly, the dogs spotted a large flock of geese by a nearby frozen lake. They bolted toward them.
“They didn't know the ice was thin over the pond,” Jaden said. “They broke the ice and fell in.”
Jaden and his grandparents instinctively ran to help the dogs. The ice gave way beneath them, sending all three people into the frigid water.
“I couldn't feel my hands,” said Jaden’s grandmother, Marilyn Shepherd. “I couldn't feel my feet. We were frozen.”
At first, Jaden tried to push his grandparents’ dog, D.O.G., out of the water, but the weight just made the boy sink lower into the freezing lake, so he tried a different approach that he had seen on an Animal Planet program.
“I tried to push the broken ice behind me and I sort of rolled my way out,” he said. “Then, I was able to pull D.O.G. out.”
Jaden’s grandparents were still struggling to get out of the water. It was so cold that Jaden’s grandmother thought she was going to die.
“You sort of see your life flash in front of your face,” Marilyn said. "I wasn't sure I was going to get out. I remember thinking, ‘At least Jaden is out.'”
Jaden next managed to pull his grandfather out of the water. As his grandfather went to help Marilyn, Jaden turned his attention to the other dog, Sienna, who kept dipping below the surface of the water. After everyone was finally out of the lake, they carefully made their way back to solid ground.
The whole ordeal lasted less than five minutes, but to Marylin, it felt like hours. She described herself as being in shock.
“Jaden at one point said to me, ‘Grandma, are you dying?’” she said.
They were bitterly cold, but no one, including the dogs, was seriously injured.
“Everyone luckily made it out safe and here we are alive,” Jaden said.
Marilyn wrote a letter to the Flagstaff Fire Department detailing her grandson’s heroic actions.
“He amazes me,” she said. “He knew what to do and he did it with such tranquility.”
Fire personnel agreed. After surprising him with his award, the crew members of Flagstaff Fire Department Engine 4 gave Jaden and his grandparents a ride in their fire engine and a tour of Fire Station 4.
Firefighter Mike Felts said Jaden’s cool head was what saved him and his family from dying of hypothermia or drowning.
“It’s not very often that we have kids of his caliber that can actually take it upon themselves to stop, assess the situation and then actually follow through with it," Felts said. "With his heroic efforts, he really did save his family.”
Felts said anyone whose pet falls through the ice should call 911 immediately rather than risk becoming another victim. He recommended that anyone who does fall through the ice shout for help and try to remain calm. Prevention, he added, is the best way to stay safe.
“The biggest thing is to be cautious around ice,” Felts said. “It has to be cold for a long period of time for the ice to get thick enough that you don’t fall through. With our fluctuating weather up here in Flagstaff, it’s very hard to tell how thick the ice is.”
For Jaden and his family, it is a lesson they won’t soon forget.
“It’s one of those things that you say, ‘That will never happen to me,’” Marilyn said. “’We’re too careful. That will never happen’ — until it happens to you.”