Nine-year-old gets turn to be ‘hero’ in attempt to save elderly woman
By Suzanne Dean
MT PLEASANT—In a third-grade class at Manti Elementary School last school year, Justin Sorensen, 9, wrote a paper saying his dad was his hero.
Justin wrote that he chose his dad “because he saved two kids from drowning.”
But last Monday, July 22, the tables were turned. After Justin went head first through an upper level window and unlocked two doors so a Mt. Pleasant police officer, and later, EMTs, could rescue an 84-year-old woman who was barely breathing, his father said Justin was his hero.
“Somebody needed help. He didn’t hesitate,” Jerry Sorensen of Manti said of his son.
The story behind the school essay and Sorensen pronouncing his son to be a hero actually goes back nearly 40 years.
When Sorensen, who grew up in Manti, was about 20, he noticed some children playing next to the Manti City Creek at 100 South during spring runoff. One of the children who was 2 or 3 years old—in Sorensen’s words, “just a little tike”—fell in and was carried downstream by the current. Sorensen rushed to the stream bank and was able to pull the child out.
Sorensen, an airplane pilot, ended up in Taiwan, where he was hired by China Airlines to teach English to pilots and help the pilots train in simulators. That’s where he met and married a Filipino woman who was living in Taiwan.
One Christmas, the family was at a party being held near a reservoir. Since Taiwan is south of the equator, Christmas occurs in the middle of the summer there.
At one point that day, Sorensen and some other guests at the party decided to take their scooters on a ride around the lake. That’s when Sorensen saw what turned out to be a 4-year-old boy fall off the dam into the lake and not come up.
“People came running up to the edge” of the reservoir, but nobody did anything, he said. “The mother was screaming her head off.”
Sorensen jumped in but couldn’t find the child. He came out on the bank and jumped in again. On the second try, he found the child and tossed him onto the bank. The boy was gasping, but quickly started breathing normally and did not require CPR.
A few days later, the mother came to the Sorensen home with a cake and a thank-you card. Little Justin told his day, ‘You’re a hero.” And at that point, Sorensen told his son the story about pulling the child out of the stream in Manti years earlier.
A couple of years ago, Sorensen brought his family to Manti so they could be with his father, Rey, who is in his 90s. Once here, Sorensen started a locksmith service called Jerry’s Locksmith.
All those circumstances came into play last week. On Sunday, July 14, a close friend dropped Catherine Mary Hawkins off after church at her home at 360 W. 700 South in Mt. Pleasant.
Catherine and her friend went on a walk most mornings. If Catherine didn’t want to walk, she always called and let her friend know.
But on Monday, July 15, Catherine didn’t show up for the walk and didn’t call. Her friend tried to call her. The friend went to the house, knocked on the door and rang the doorbell. There was no response.
About 11:30 a.m., the friend called Catherine’s only child, her daughter Twila Gutierrez, who lives in Spring City. After hearing what was going on, and especially hearing her mother hadn’t called her friend to cancel their morning walk, Gutierrez said. “A small voice” told her, “’You need to call the police/’”
Catherine Hawkins always locked up her house “like Fort Knox,” her daughter said. And nobody had a key. The Mt. Pleasant Police Department said it didn’t have grounds to break through her door. The police advised her to find a way to get the door open.
Gutierrez called three locksmiths. None of them were available. Then someone at the Mt. Pleasant Police Department gave her the number for Jerry’s Locksmith. Sorensen had Justin with him that day. They were on another job in Sterling when the call came in from Gutierrez. Sorensen said he could be in Mt. Pleasant within an hour.
About 2 p.m., Gutierrez met Mt. Pleasant Police Officer Dwayne Ballantyne and Sorensen at her mother’s house.
While Sorensen tried to open doors, Guiterrez and Ballantyne walked around looking through windows and pounding on doors. Then Gutierrez looked through a front window and looked toward the floor rather than straight ahead. She could see a little of her mother’s white hair on the floor.
“Get it open now. She’s down,” she told Ballantyne and Sorensen.
Sorensen said it was going to take a long time to pick the locks if he could open them at all. However, he always carries a step ladder with him on jobs. An upper window on the back of the house was open.
“Thank goodness you brought your boy,” Officer Ballantyne told Sorensen. The officer got on the ladder and cut through the screen. Sorensen climbed the ladder, held Justin above his head and put him through the window. In a few minutes, Justin had the house open.
When everyone went in, it didn’t appear Catherine Hawkins was alive. Then the officer saw a faint movement in her chest. He called for an ambulance.
EMTs arrived and put a respirator on Hawkins. She started breathing. By 2:30 p.m. she was at Sanpete Valley Hospital, where a CAT scan showed she had suffered a massive stroke.
“The entire left side and a little of the frontal lobe had been affected,” her daughter said.
She was transferred to Utah Valley Medical Center and placed in intensive care. A doctor told the family that even if all the medical heroics available were used, Hawkins would end up in a nursing home with a feeding tube.
Gutierrez pointed out to the medical staff that her mother had a living will that included a “do-not-resuscitate” clause. So on Tuesday, doctors and the family decided to move Catherine Hawkins to a regular room and, in her daughter’s words, “let nature take its course.”
Family members visited her Tuesday night and Wednesday. She died Wednesday afternoon about 3 p.m.
Gutierrez said her mother’s stroke was so massive that even if someone had been with her when it happened, it wouldn’t have changed the outcome.
Nonetheless, she said she’s grateful for Justin’s help. “I don’t know what we would have done” without him, she said.