Army honors Fort Worth teen for saving girl from cold Trinity River

FORT WORTH -- Sean Koirtyohann wasn't trying to be a hero when he dove into the river to save a life. He was just doing what he had been taught, the teen said.

A group of teens from across the city gathered at Gateway Park on Thanksgiving weekend last year for a game using airsoft replica guns.

After the game, as Koirtyohann was walking along the Trinity River with others, a girl fell in the water. Koirtyohann, then 16, dove into the cold water and carried her to safety.

This month the Southwest High School junior received the Medal of Heroism award from the Army, the highest national honor given to a JROTC student, for saving the life of another.

"It's one thing to know what's right, but it's another thing to have that desire to act," said Army Col. Bridget Rourke, who is based in San Antonio and oversees JROTC programs in Texas.

Koirtyohann said the girl fell into the water when part of the river bank gave way. He advised her to swim to the bank on the other side -- it was more stable -- but halfway across, she began to struggle, so he dove in and pulled her across.

"The water was so cold," he said. "It felt like an elephant jumped on my chest or like a thousand needles were on every square inch of my body."

The girl, whom Koirtyohann did not know, was briefly unconscious but came to once they were out of the water, he said. Koirtyohann said he rubbed sand on her so that it could soak up the water in an effort to warm her up faster.

Koirtyohann said he did push-ups to get his own body temperature to rise.

After getting the girl to her friends, she was taken home. Her mother later took her to the hospital, where she was treated for hypothermia.

Koirtyohann said his reaction was all instinct.

Growing up in a family of scuba divers, Koirtyohann had learned much about water safety and how to react in a crisis. He also noted that he watches a lot of Bear Grylls of Man vs. Wild on Discovery Channel.

JROTC Col. Ron Westervelt learned of the incident from cadets at Southwest who witnessed the rescue. Westervelt pushed for the teen to receive the national medal and collected witness statements to send to the Army. Attempts to find the girl, who did not attend Southwest and apparently has moved, were unsuccessful, Westervelt said.

Westervelt said Koirtyohann, who wants to be a Marine one day, is truly a young leader. As second-year JROTC student, the teen is a company commander who oversees the cadets in his class.

"He's a pretty energetic and athletic man, so it didn't surprise me that he would do something like that," Westervelt said. "He has a type-A personality to react first."

His mother, Karen Koirtyohann, said her son downplayed the event when he came home that day.

It wasn't until his instructor was collecting affidavits for the award that she learned what had happened.

"I was pretty proud," she said. "He used his skills; he kept his head about him and did what needed to be done."

Eva-Marie Ayala, 817-390-7700