Selfless & Heroic Souls – Part XXII

More 'bystanders' who, when met with a life-and-death situation, attempted a rescue



Let’s add a few more descriptions of “bystanders” who, when met with a life-and-death situation, attempted a rescue, often fatal for themselves.

On May 6, 2016, Catholic Malcolm “Mike” Winffel was walking through a shopping mall’s parking lot with a co-worker, Carl Unger, on their way to lunch “when they heard a woman screaming for help and saw her walking backward from a gun-wielding man. Winffel ran in her direction, then thrust himself between her and the gunman” (Colby Itkowitz, “Theirs Was a 25-Year Romance. Then the Love of Her Life Took a Bullet to Save a Stranger,” Washington Post, June 25, 2016, p. C1). Winffel was hit in the chest and died. Carl Unger was hit four times but lived. The woman who was the target was hit in the chest and also survived. Winffel had been married 25 years. He and his wife were the parents of two children, ages 17 and 15.

On December 17, 2015, Zaevion Dobson, age 15 and a high school sophomore in Knoxville, Tennessee, shielded two girls from a drive-by shooting. The girls survived, but Dobson died.

On Sunday, July 17, 2016, a monument to Stanley Fisher was unveiled in Matawan, New Jersey. Fisher was a 24-year-old tailor a century earlier when, on July 12, 1916, two boys who had been skinny-dipping yelled on the main street that “a shark got Lester!” Fisher and others rushed to the site and dove into the creek. Fisher found 11-year-old Lester Stillwell’s body and started to pull it out when the shark took ten pounds out of Fisher’s leg. Fisher died at the hospital. The other rescuers were not attacked. Stillwell also died (see John Allan Savolaine, Stanley Fisher: Shark Attack Hero of a Bygone Age, 2016).

In July 2016, 61-year-old Julio DeLeon, married 31 years and father of three, was bicycling over the George Washington Bridge in New York when he saw a 19-year-old man in position to jump. He got off his bike and spoke the words, “Don’t do it. We love you, my heart,” and then grabbed the young man and held on to him until police arrived (Jim Dwyer, “On Bridge, a Quick-Thinking Cyclist Saves a Life on the Ledge,” N.Y. Times, Aug. 5, 2016, p. A19).

On December 14, 2012, schoolteacher and Catholic Vicki Soto, age 27, hid her first graders from the gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School. She died while covering their bodies with her own.

A few more examples: On May 25, 2018, Indiana schoolteacher Jason Seaman was shot while tackling a shooter (Vic Ryckaert, et al., “What We Know about ‘Hero’ Noblesville Teacher Jason Seaman,” Indianapolis Star, May 25, 2018). Stephen Willeford heard shooting in the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday, November 5, 2017, and grabbed his gun, exchanged gunfire with the shooter, and then chased him. After the Las Vegas shooting of October 1, 2017, a headline read “As the Bullets Fell, a Firefighter [Travis Haldeman] Told His Wife to Run. But He Needed to Stay” (Lynh Bui, Washington Post, Oct. 7, 2017, p.A8). Likewise: “While Others Were Fleeing the Scene, Army Veteran [Aaron Stalker] Drove Straight to It,” as bullets continued “to rain” down from overhead (Sarah Kaplan, Washington Post, Oct 5, 2017, p.A6).

On a side note: London has a “Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice” which consists of tiles briefly describing the sacrifice of individuals from the 1870s and beyond. The author of a Wall Street Journal article about it, Michael Auslin, recommended a similar monument in the United States and identified a dozen or so individuals to honor (see “A Monument for Those Who Died Saving Others,” Wall Street Journal, May 5, 2016, p. A13).

I’ll repeat what I wrote earlier in this series: that thinking on the subjects of holiness and heroism is an ennobling, uplifting experience.


***Editor’s Note: For Part XXIII in this series, click here


James M. Thunder has left the practice of law but continues to write. He has published widely, including a Narthex series on lay holiness. He and his wife Ann are currently writing on the relationship between Father Karol Wojtyla (the future Pope) and lay people.

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