School principal jumps into icy river to save autistic student

Nadine Bells
Good News

Elementary school principal Gwen Rhodes is quick to shrug off her new "hero" status.

"I think what I want people to know is I did what I did because I was in a circumstance where I had to think quickly," Rhodes said. "Which is what an educator does every day."

Last Wednesday morning, Rhodes jumped into Cocheco River to rescue a 10-year-old autistic student who had run into the woods after recess at Gonic School near Rochester, New Hampshire.

Rhodes and another teacher followed the runaway student while others called 911. The boy, Andrew Brown, had crossed sections of the frozen river onto a small peninsula. And then Rhodes heard him scream.

Andrew fell through thin ice.

"He looked at me and he said, 'Help.' I said his name and said, 'Don't move' and just then the ice cracked and at that point he's going into the water, so I just reacted to get closer to him," Rhodes recounted in an interview.

She joined him in the cold water, swimming alongside him and instructing him to work his way upstream where she could carefully push him out of the water and onto the bank by pulling on tree branches.

"They were both up to their chests in water," said Lieutenant Dennis Dube of the Rochester Fire Department.

"Without even thinking, no coat, nothing she went in and grabbed him and hoisted him up on some ice," says Chris Brown, the boy's grateful father. "If she wasn't there, he would've been under. He would've been under the ice."

First responders were on the scene as the cold, wet pair made their way out of the woods. Both student and principal were treated for hypothermia and some bruises, CBS reports.

"(Rhodes) saved us from performing a very technical rescue," Dube said. "We're calling it a very brave act. Normally we don't condone such a thing, but she was stuck in a hard place there."