A pair of young children fell through the thin ice of Brown's Slough where it runs behind AC Quickstop on the night of Wednesday, February 13. Luckily, a young man had decided to try to take a shortcut home.
Cory LePore Sr. heard them first. LePore lives in the Bethel Native Corporation townhouses, which face Brown's Slough as it runs behind AC Quickstop.
"I was walking up the stairs when I heard screaming," he recalled.
The screams appeared to come from the slough.
"I happen to look over and there was a young lady and a small boy sitting in the middle of the slough, waist deep in the water," LePore said.
LePore immediately went over to see how he could save them. The ice was thin, LePore called it “shell-ice,” and the freezing water ran fast underneath the surface, making it even more treacherous. He didn’t cross the water because he didn’t know how deep it was from where he stood, but LePore saw that the kids were near more stable ground.
"So I instructed them to roll and stand on some solid ground, and stand and wait," LePore said.
If they did that, it could buy him some time so that he could run to his truck nearby and grab a pallet to help rescue them. But the little girl started falling through the ice into the freezing water, and that’s when Joseph “Boya” Joekay appeared.
"And when I was running up to my truck I heard screaming and turned around, and the young girl was started to go through the ice. Right then, Joseph took off his shoes, socks, and pulled up his sweatpants and made a beeline for the young lady," LePore said.
Joekay was heading back to the Kuskokwim Learning Academy, where he is a student. He arrived in Bethel a month ago from Napaskiak. He and two other friends had stopped at AC Quickstop after debating a shortcut to head home.
"That poor girl, she was the first one I brought up, and I slipped," Joekay said.
Joekay held the girl up as he fell into water up to his neck. When he returned to fetch the little boy, he says that the little boy didn’t trust him.
"I went over and said 'Want a piggy back ride?'" said Joekay.
All three made it out of the slough, although a little wetter and colder than before. An ambulance came, both men said, to make sure all of them were okay. Both men said that the children seemed fine after their ordeal. As for Joekay, his legs are a web of thin red cuts up to his knees where the ice edges slit through his skin. He wore flannel pajamas the next day to school because of the pain from the cuts.
Both LePore and Joekey say that they didn’t see the parents around when the children were playing on the ice. Mark Leary, a volunteer with Bethel Search and Rescue, says that parents need to keep their young children off the ice, especially with the longer warm periods in between cold ones.