BEAR, Del. — When Minh Nguyen ran out of his home the afternoon of Jan. 25, he heard a little girl screaming “Don’t let me die! Don’t let me die!”
The longtime Christiana Fire Company volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician is being hailed as a hero for saving the 8-year-old’s life after she walked onto an ice-covered pond in Bear and plunged into the water.
But he says his mother-in-law and wife played vital roles in the rescue.
Nguyen, also a full-time firefighter and his wife, Michelle, also an EMT and Christiana volunteer, were busy the day it happened.
They were moving out of the Meridian Crossing neighborhood in Bear the last Sunday of January, so Michelle’s mother, Nancy McConnell, was spending the day with them. The Nguyens were packing and McConnell was outside.
“First, we heard her screaming,” Nguyen said. “Michelle ran out to see what was going on and she came running back in, saying, ‘There’s a little girl in the pond and she’s drowning,'” he said.
Nguyen grabbed his water-rescue equipment from the bedroom of their 3-year-old son, Elijah, and ran. Luckily, the gear was closer at hand than usual, because he had taken it from his car to make room for moving boxes.
Once outside in the biting cold, he saw his mother-in-law on the phone with 911 and his wife by the far shore of the pond, talking with the screaming girl and an older girl, a teen who stood by the hole in the ice, about 25 feet out onto the pond. A third girl, a pre-teen, was on the shore.
His mother-in-law was on the phone to 911, talking to a dispatcher.
He heard his wife telling the terrified little girl, “keep your head above the water, keep talking to me. Everything will be OK.”
The girl in the water was starting to drop under the surface and bob back up as Nguyen talked the second girl slowly, carefully off the ice, knowing it could give way any second.
He was donning his dry suit and started to put on the gloves, but saw the girl disappear – and heard her cries for help silenced under the water – and she didn’t pop back up to the surface.
He didn’t bother putting on his gloves. “There wasn’t time,” he said.