A Wamego police officer fresh out of cadet training had a dramatic first week on the job when he was called to help save a girl who had fallen into a river swollen from recent rains.
Two sisters, ages 9 and 17, were playing near the Kansas River when the 9-year-old fell in, according to information from the Wamego Police Department.
The police were not releasing the names, but other sources identified them as Kayla and Aerial Hardi.
Aerial, the 17-year-old, jumped in after her sister, and they floated down the river until they were able to catch hold of a log near the K-99 bridge. The water began to rise over their heads, and, afraid they would drown, they decided to let go of the log and continued to float downstream.
Eventually, Aerial was able to swim to shore and go for help while Kayla held on to a tree branch in the middle of the water.
Aerial ran to the first house she saw, but there was no answer at the door. Michael Connolly, 57, of Alma, was visiting. His wife called 911, and Connolly and his son-in-law went to the river. Police received the call at 3:12 p.m.
When police arrived, Connolly was chest-deep in the water attempting to help Kayla, police said.
Wamego Police Officer Jason Powell attempted to throw a flotation device to the girl, who was 20 feet from the bank, but was unsuccessful.
Officer Derek Gray, who had just graduated from the police academy in Hutchinson on Friday, “feared for the child’s life,” according to a press release from the police department. He removed his ballistic vest and entered the river. Recent rains had made the river rise and the current move faster. Just a few feet from the bank, Gray could no longer touch the bottom, but he was able to swim to the child. Powell threw the flotation device to Gray, and Connolly and Powell pulled the two to shore.
The girls were in the water for well over an hour, but once police arrived, Kayla was rescued within 4 minutes, police said.
“We’re very proud of them,” Wamego Police Chief Paul Schliffke said of the responders. “You always have to be careful around a large body of water. You really have to know what you’re doing.”
Bethany Knipp contributed to this story.