Sean Simpson of Durango is presented with a Citizen's Bravery Citation on Tuesday by Matt Janowiak, Columbine District Ranger/Field Office Manager, and Logan Briscoe, BLM Law Enforcement Ranger.
Sean Simpson of Durango was honored by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service Tuesday for rescuing a small child last summer from the Animas River near Silverton.
At a ceremony attended by USFS and BLM employees and other visitors at the San Juan Public Lands Center, the 20-year-old college student, who was in town over his holiday break from the University of Hawaii, was presented with a Citizen’s Bravery Citation from the federal agencies.
“I am grateful you made the decision you did, and that we are here to celebrate your courageous actions,” said Columbine District Ranger/Field Office Manager Matt Janowiak.
Last July 4, Sean was camping with friends along the Kendall Mountain Road.
He had just heard that a friend of his from college had drowned in Chicago and needed time alone.
While he was walking along the Animas River, he heard screaming and saw a young boy being carried down the river. Sean reacted immediately, running down a steep embankment through thick willows and jumping into the deep waters.
“The water was cold and over my head, but I was able to pull him to shore,” Sean said. “He wasn’t responsive at first, and I was afraid for his safety, but as I carried him up the bank, he began to cry.”
Five-year-old James Wilhelm of Aztec, N.M., had been camping with his family upriver when he tumbled into the strong current and was carried away, unbeknownst to his family.
BLM law enforcement and San Juan County Sheriff’s officers responded immediately.
“We were all just glad it turned out to be a good ending, and we are really grateful to Sean,” said Melody Skinner, San Juan County Sheriff Administrative Assistant.
“This guy is really a hero as far as I’m concerned,” Sheriff Sue Kurtz said in July.
Earlier that same season, a woman had drowned downriver in the unusually high flows of the Upper Animas, and two other rafters had nearly died, although equipped with life vests and helmets.
“The river was unusually high for that time of year, and Sean was at the last campsite along the river,” said BLM Law Enforcement Officer Logan Briscoe, who responded to the scene. “If the child had been carried around the bend, he would have drowned.”