We commend Wamego police officers Derek Gray and Jason Powell, Alma resident Michael Connelly and 17-year-old Aerial Hardie for rescuing 9-year-old Kayla Hardie from the rain-swollen Kansas River on Sunday afternoon.
All played integral roles in saving the young girl, who fell into the river while sitting beside it with her 17-year-old sister, Aerial. Aerial jumped in after her sister, and they were swept by the fast-moving current until they grabbed hold of a log near the K-99 bridge.
When the water continued to rise and threatened to engulf them, they let go of the log and were carried farther downstream. With Kayla about 20 feet from shore clinging to a tree branch near Pine Street, Aerial was able to swim to shore to look for help. Mr. Connelly, who was visiting his daughter and son-in-law, who live on Pine Street in Wamego, rushed to the river while his wife dialed 911.
When police arrived minutes later, they saw Mr. Connelly, 58, already in the water trying to help Kayla. When his efforts to throw a floatation device to the girl failed, Officer Gray — who was in his first week on the job — swam out to her. Officer Powell threw the floatation device to him, and Officer Powell and Mr. Connelly were able to pull Officer Gray and Kayla to shore. Kayla was out of the water within four minutes of the time police arrived, though it must have seemed like an eternity.
Not surprisingly, she was exhausted, having struggled to stay afloat in the angry river for about an hour and a half. But she was safe.
For that she can thank her sister, who risked her own life by jumping into the river to try to protect her, as well as Mr. Connelly and Wamego police offers Powell and Gray. Their quick thinking, collective courage and the officers’ training ensured that this incident, which could so easily have ended tragically, had a happy ending instead.
None of them knew when they awoke Sunday the test that awaited them that afternoon. Thank God they were in a position to help a young girl in great peril and responded the way they did.