He wasn’t sure what to do next. But when he looked around, he knew that the only person who could save the day was him. He leaped into action, but all he had to work with was his own instinct. This wasn’t a burden that any 11-year-old boy should ever have to deal with. It’s up to the grownups to look after their children. But he wasn’t about to abandon a child in distress simply because he was a little boy.
A lot of families came to the Marina Dunes near Monterey Bay to have a great time, and Connor Fitz-Gerald and his parents were no exception. The Dunes contain 170 acres of protected land. This beautiful natural preserve is the highest on the Central Coast of California. It’s also home to a number of rare animals and birds. But the park offers access to the public so people can hang out at the beach. However, there’s something special that always tends to attract kids.
Kids love going to the beach because they get to make and destroy sand castles, or dig for buried treasure. There’s plenty of sand at the Marina Dunes. And thanks to the conservation efforts, the sand is smooth, easy to work with, and most importantly, it’s clean. Parents don’t have to worry about their kids catching an infection, touching pollutants, or getting hurt by sharp objects. But the Dunes aren’t as safe as people initially think.
The day at the dunes was warm and sunny, and lots of people had come to have fun. Five-year-old Alyssa Bostic was there to relax and enjoy the day just like Connor and his family. Alyssa was eager to hang out in the sand, but she had a tough time finding the right spot because of all the kids there. So, she walked a bit further, and she found a sand dune where no one was around. Now, she could dig freely. Meanwhile, her folks kept an eye on her from afar, or so they assumed.
Alyssa was focused on digging a cave, but she hadn’t realized how big the hole in the sand dune had become. It was so big that she was able to get in. But she kept digging deeper until the dune suddenly collapsed on her. She was buried alive. It happened in the blink of an eye, so her parents hadn’t even realized that their daughter was in grave danger. Fortunately, there was one person on the beach who had seen what had happened to Alyssa.
Connor was digging a cave no too far from where Alyssa had been. Then he heard something strange. When he looked up, Alyssa was gone. Then he saw the little girl’s bag on the sand, and it was seemingly abandoned. That’s when he realized that there was a little girl there a few moments ago. It dawned on him that she was somehow swallowed whole by the sand dune, and he would have to act fast.
The nearest adults were about 1,000 feet away, and Connor knew that he didn’t have time to get help. So, he decided to come to Alyssa’s rescue all by himself. Based on the dune’s appearance, Connor deduced where the little girl’s head was and began to dig. It turns out, his instincts were right. Seconds later, Alyssa’s face popped up. But Connor was horrified by the sight of the unconscious girl.
Sand covered Alyssa’s eyes, nose, and mouth. So, Connor continued to dig until he was finally able to pull her all the way out of the sand dune. She was virtually lifeless, and the boy noticed that she wasn’t breathing either. As he looked around, he noticed others kids were approaching him to see what had happened, but there weren’t any adults in the group. So, he decided to save her on his own.
Connor had never had any first-aid training. But the 11-year-old was a huge fan of “NCIS,” a TV drama, and he’d seen people performing CPR on various episodes. So, he did his best to mimic what they had done by pushing on Alyssa’s chest. Although he wasn’t experienced, he was the little girl’s only shot at survival. Then, adults finally arrived.
Connor’s parents arrived alongside Alyssa’s parents. Alyssa’s dad dialed 911 while Connor’s dad went over to help his son. It was such an unusual scene for Alyssa’s parents to see her unconscious while a little boy tried desperately to keep her alive. Fortunately, it seemed like Alyssa was breathing once again. But only the paramedics could determine if Connor had performed CPR correctly.
As soon as the paramedics arrived, they examined Alyssa. Although she was only buried for a couple of minutes, she might have suffocated. But they also knew that Connor’s action had increased her odds of survival. Alyssa was rushed to the hospital where she eventually made a complete recovery. Now that the ordeal had passed, Connor’s dad commented on what happened.
Connor’s dad, Tim Fitz-Gerald, was very proud of his son’s actions. His quick thinking had saved a human life. “I am glad he was able to sit back and go, ‘wait a minute something’s going on, there’s not a parent here, I know they’re at least a quarter mile away, I need to do something,’” he shared. And Alyssa’s family felt the same way.
Both families were interviewed by local news station KSBW 8 a couple of days later. Connor showed the camera crew the location where Alyssa was buried alive and what he did to bring her back to life. When the 5-year-old was asked how she was doing after her ordeal, she replied, “good.” Everyone was grateful to Connor, and his actions caught the attention of the entire community.
On Veterans Day, the local American Legion Auxiliary honored Connor a few months after the incident. In recognition of his heroic act of physical bravery, the boy was given the National Youth Hero Award. This honor was created in 2002, and is not easy to get. The Chairman of the local American Legion said, “It is one that our auxiliary has never given before, so it’s a very special award.” But Connor and his family are modest.
At the award ceremony, Tim Fitz-Gerald said, “I think he would do it again tomorrow. To him, to us, it’s not something that’s extraordinary. Somebody needed help so I gotta do something.” Mr. Fitz-Gerald knows a lot about selflessness and courageous acts because he’s a veteran. And we’re grateful for his service and grateful to Connor for being such an amazing tiny hero.