A midsummer trip to Windsor Lake nearly turned tragic when a bystander found 2-year-old Cameron Garcia floating facedown in the water, blue-lipped and apparently lifeless.
But thanks to a series of heroic efforts by a group of three strangers and a community of support, Cameron is not only still living — he’s smiling and just as rambunctious as a toddler should be.
Emotions ran high Tuesday, as Windsor Severance Fire Rescue handed out Citizen Lifesaving Awards to Tim Ault, Kerry Phillips and Robert Linder for their bold efforts on July 14 that nearly turned deadly.
In an event that highlighted the importance of first aid training and CPR, it was clear that the emotional scarring from the unforgettable afternoon was far from healed.
Ault, after receiving an honorary plaque, recalled the events that afternoon.
While wading in water about 5 feet from shore, he heard an ear-piercing scream from a group of three young girls near something that was floating in the water.
That buoyant object was the apparently lifeless body of Cameron.
“He was just so little,” Ault recalled. “I just grabbed him and ran him to shore and started yelling for someone to call 911.”
With everything happening so quickly, he couldn’t remember exactly how it unfolded or what was said, but he recalled that a man came to his aid and took Cameron from his dripping arms.
It was then, he said, that water was “gushing” from the child’s mouth.
At that point, his lips had turned blue.
“I didn’t know whether he was alive or how long he’d been there,” Ault said.
The man who came to his aid was Kerry Phillips, a firefighter from the Poudre Fire Authority in Fort Collins who had just arrived at the lake for an afternoon of adventure with his family, which includes a daughter who is Cameron’s age.
Phillips was off-duty but in the right place at the right time.
Details were fuzzy, but he said he immediately saw a frantic and distraught group gathering around what appeared to be a small child. As he rushed to help. He relied on his medical training to begin compressions and administering CPR.
“That kind of kicked in when it needed to,” he said. He said calls about kids are a first responder’s nightmare, and the situation was a simple combination of a lot of things coming together at the right time.
Cameron’s mother, Marissa Garcia, remembered everything happening so fast and that a split second of not watching her child turned the afternoon outing into a parent’s nightmare.
“They were playing and then they were gone,” she said. “I just saw a crowd of people and inside, I was just like ‘something’s not right.’ ”
Then she saw Cameron’s white swimming shorts. Then she knew.
Robert Linder, who was unable to attend Tuesday’s ceremony, tended to Cameron with Phillips until emergency workers arrived and whisked the still-struggling child to a nearby hospital.
Nobody knew whether he would make it. All they could do was hope.
“The rest of that day and most of the next day, I was in shock,” said a still-visibly shaken Ault. “I was crying almost all of that day because I didn’t know what happened.”
It wasn’t until the afternoon — more than 24 hours after the incident — that anyone started to hear that the heroic efforts had paid off and Cameron had pulled through. From a friend and through social networking, it became clear that the near-tragedy on the lake had become one of the truest examples of human compassion and heroics anyone could ask for, explained Marissa Garcia.
“All I can say is that I’m blessed, and I think my family is blessed, too,” she said. “I’m privileged.”
Tuesday marked the first time the heroes from that day met face to face with Marissa — a moment she said was long awaited and greatly appreciated.
“All we had were names and not actual faces,” Marissa said, hoping that the group of strangers can stay in contact long into the future.
As for Cameron, Marissa said he shows almost no memory of the near-death experience. He was recently back playing in the water — with a watchful eye from mom, of course.
“I just hope that this shows the message that there are everyday situations that need heroism,” Marissa said. “If you just do one thing to save a life, saving that one life can mean so much.”