‘Hero is a big word’: Army vet makes 50-foot jump into river to save 18-year-old

By WTVR via CNN Newsource

Published: Dec. 20, 2023 at 2:40 PM EST

PETERSBURG, Va. (WTVR) – An Army veteran in Virginia jumped off a bridge to save the life of an 18-year-old.

Juan Serrano and his wife left their home in the evening of Wednesday, Dec. 13, to go to church.

The couple was set to make an announcement about their community non-profit. They said they never expected the night to end with Serrano having to save someone’s life.

The two left church to get something to eat before going home.

“As we head back on the highway we saw that there was a kid walking, he had a backpack and was walking on the emergency lane,” Serrano said.

Serrano and his wife were heading southbound on I-95 in Petersburg, crossing a bridge that runs over the Appomattox River.

“As I was approaching the kid I saw that he was pacing himself, so I asked him if he needed a ride, if he was ok, did he need any help. So the next thing I knew he started getting to the edge of the bridge and then he just jumped into the water,” Serrano said.

In shock, the eight-year Army veteran said he ran to the opposite end of the highway anticipating where the 18-year-old may be in the river based on the direction the water was moving.

“When I saw him and he came up in the center of the river and he just cried for help, I’m like, all right we gotta get him out of the water because it could’ve been my kid,” Serrano said.

The next thing he knew, Serrano said he found himself in the river.

The water was freezing cold, and the skies pitch black, but that didn’t stop Serrano from making the 50-foot jump to help the stranger.

“For me it was like five to seven minutes, my wife told me we were in the water for about 30 minutes or so,” Serrano said.

Ultimately, the two traveled about a mile down the river when they stopped at the gates of a water treatment plant.

Coming out of the cold water, Serrano said he did what he could to keep the stranger warm until emergency crews could arrive to take him to a hospital.

Serrano said he went home that night in disbelief of what had happened.

“Reliving it is kinda hard I don’t know, sorry,” Serrano said. “I don’t know how to put it, but it’s just like being able to be with the kid and actually get him out of the water and give him help at the moment, it values everything that I stand for.”

With a courageous heart, the humble hero said he’s sharing this story not to being any recognition to himself, but hoping it will being awareness to the need for more mental health resources in communities.

“A hero is a big word, I was just a guy with my wife, passing by and God put us there for a reason,” Serrano said.

Serrano said he hasn’t spoken with the young man he rescued.

He said if he could give him a message it would be “God loves you, he had a purpose for you,” and if there is anything he or his family can do for the young man, that he shouldn’t hesitate to reach out.

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