The scene is straight out of a Hollywood movie — except that it’s even more intense, because it’s real.
A pickup truck is upside down and nearly submerged in a creek. Thunder rolls and lightning cracks while a tornado siren screeches loudly in the background. Several men who stopped to help are now in the rushing water, trying desperately to free the people inside. That is, except for one man — Tom Mitchell.
Knowing that he was not strong enough to withstand the current, Mitchell instead began to document the rescue efforts that were unfolding in front of his eyes, in a video that has now been viewed on Facebook more than 27 million times since Sunday. He had been driving just north of Canton, Texas after storms and tornados had ripped through the area when he came upon the truck.
Waist deep in the water, a frantic man yells, “I need a knife! I need a sharp knife!” before angrily telling the bystanders to come help him. Suddenly, he looks up from the door he is desperately trying to pull open and yells, “We got a baby!” after which you hear a woman, bystander Virginia Howard, wail, “Oh my God, a baby!”
But what they didn’t know was that there were actually two children trapped, as well as their parents Phillip and Emily Ocheltree.
Emily and her husband Phillip had decided that Saturday evening to move to a tornado shelter after posting on her Facebook page that she was hiding in the closet with her children while the tornado sirens went off. But on their way to the shelter, their truck hydroplaned off the road and flipped upside down into the water.
In the pitch black, they had no idea that anyone was trying to rescue them as they engaged in a life-or-death fight to free 4-month-old son Marshal and their 18-month-old daughter Addyson from their car seats.
When the rescuers finally managed to open the truck’s door and let the terrified parents know that they weren’t alone, Emily insisted that they save the children first, telling WFAA-TV Channel 8, “I was like, ‘I don’t want help for us. Please help my kids. My kids are in the backseat.'”
The video captures the moment when bystanders realized that there were more children trapped in the car, and several more men went running into the water. Thanks to the help of a knife, a tire iron, and the joint efforts of complete strangers, they were able to pull an unconscious and deathly blue baby Marshal from the car.
Minutes later, Addyson was also pulled out, still strapped in her car seat.
Neither of the children were breathing.
“He was limp, white, and going bluish gray,” Mitchell explained to WFAA-TV Channel 8. “And the eyes were not focused at all when I looked down at him.”
It was then that Mitchell slipped his cellphone into his pocket and began CPR on Marshal. “I just had this negative feeling come over me that this baby may not make it,” he recalled. “There’s just no reaction. Nothing is happening.”
It’s hard not to watch the video and join in with bystander Howard as she begins to fervently pray over Mitchel’s shoulder, “Lord, give him breath! Oh Lord, help him breathe!” while the video shows glimpses of the unconscious children.
Thankfully, their efforts paid off, because tonight Marshal has already been released from the hospital, and Addyson — “Addybug” to her family — is well on her way. After spending some time on a ventilator, “she is definitely on the road to recovery,” dad Phillip shared on his Facebook page, before posting a video of Addyson eating a snack in the hospital — still on oxygen, but looking much better.
Yesterday, WFAA-TV Channel 8 arranged for the Ocheltrees to meet one of their rescuers. Jaimie Martinez is a former firefighter in Guatemala who also just happened to be passing by and stopped to give the children CPR. Visibly shaken with gratitude, they hugged him, buried their faces into his shoulder, and sobbed while thanking him.
Four lives, all saved by a group of people willing to risk their own, is not something that will soon be forgotten. Standing on the side of Highway 64, Mitchell, Howard, and another rescuer Korey Prox gathered together with WFAA-TV Channel 8 for the first time since they saved the Ocheltree family. Clutching the tiny little pants that were cut off Addyson during the rescue, Howard explained that she is “going to keep them, sleep on them, and pray on them until that little girl wakes up.”
Thankfully, little Addyson is awake and recovering tonight because of the people who risked their lives for her. “Everyone that came together, it was just a wonderful feeling,” Prox said.
And I’m sure the Ocheltree family would agree, because this story could have ended very differently had this group of strangers not pulled together to save their family.