Milford ‘hero’ honored for icy pond rescue of boy, 10

NHR_L_0324 john o'rourke_ag
NHR_L_0324 john o'rourke_ag

MILFORD >> City resident John O’Rourke is being hailed as a hero after putting his own life in danger during a dramatic rescue Feb. 5 of a 10-year-old boy who had fallen through the ice at Mondo Ponds Nature Preserve Trail.

“John is an absolute hero,” Mayor Benjamin G. Blake said. “He was faced with a dire situation and without thought or regard for his own welfare, he put his life on the line to save a young boy.”

The city recognized O’Rourke with a proclamation at a recent Board of Aldermen meeting to express “thanks and admiration for his bravery.”

“We are all very proud John was in the right place at the right time and a tragedy was averted,” Blake said.

O’Rourke, 62, just a regular guy of slight build with no life-saving training, said it was “human nature,” to do all he could to save the boy, whose terror was apparent as he struggled to stay afloat in the frigid water.

“If you saw that little boy’s face, it would be human nature to help him,” O’Rourke said. The boy, whose parents don’t want to be identified publicly, had “a little round face and big eyes,” O’Rourke said.


The rescue unfolded while O’Rourke was walking his springer spaniel, Cork, at the pond near Subway headquarters and John F. Kennedy Elementary School the afternoon of Super Bowl Sunday. He was hoping to get that done before going to a party.

He saw a group of kids playing on the ice and shouted for them to be careful, having been cautioned himself as a child on the dangers of going on ice-covered water.

Seconds later, as he was ready to walk away, O’Rourke saw the boy fall through the ice. As two women onshore called 911, O’Rourke, knowing there was no time to wait, went to the woods around the pond to look for a long stick and found one right away.

O’Rourke, who says he’s seen ice rescues on television through the years, laid down on the ice and wiggled across the ice to try to get the stick to the boy who could grab it and be pulled onto the ice.


All the while O’Rourke was trying to calm and reassure the boy who looked terrified, and was screaming, “‘I’m going to die, I’m going to die,’” he said.

O’Rourke got close enough for the boy to grab the stick and O’Rourke pulled him closer, but the ice gave way and now both were in the water surrounded by ice. The boy grabbed O’Rourke, who is not a strong swimmer, but was staying afloat by treading water. That got difficult.

O’Rourke then grabbed the boy to keep him from sinking and tried to tread water and break ice with the other hand, but that didn’t work out well, as O’Rourke was tiring fast. The weight of soaked winter clothing made it all the harder. O’Rourke is 5 feet 9 inches

Feeling he couldn’t continue with that method, O’Rourke put the boy onto his back so he could free both arms for treading and ice breaking, but quickly grew tired.

In “a last ditch” attempt, O’Rourke grabbed the boy and threw him onto the ice, making it on the first try.

“If you’re looking for a miracle, that was the miracle - doing it on the first shot,” O’Rourke said.

The boy wiggled himself to shore, but O’Rourke was still in the water, trying to break the ice as he went treading water toward shore.


“I’ve never been that cold,” O’Rourke said. He described the sensation as having needles being stuck in his body. “The cold was jarring.”

Despite the discomfort and uncertainty about his fate, O’Rourke said, “I felt better once the kid was out.”

Finally, he got close enough to shore that his toe hit the pond’s bottom.

“I felt good. At that point I thought, ‘Maybe I’m not going to die today.’”

But another problem had presented itself: The closer he got to shore, the harder it was to break the ice in front of him to clear a path to shore.

Then police officers showed up and they threw him a lifesaver. Once out, officers cut off O’Rourke’s clothes, warmed him and brought him to the hospital.

He only missed the first quarter of the Super Bowl game and watched the rest at the party he had been planning to attend. By the time he got there, everyone knew of his lifesaving before the game.


The mother of the boy declined to be interviewed, but O’Rourke said both she and the boy called, and sent a thank-you note and thank-you email.

The boy continues to be shaken by the event, O’Rourke said, and the mother is grateful on many fronts, including that she had another, younger child on the ice that day who could have fallen through.

The mother told O’Rourke in a note that if he hadn’t been there she would be planning a funeral instead of celebrating her son’s life.

She wrote that because of him being there and being willing to help, her son is “still here.”

The mother also told O’Rourke she had warned her children about many dangers in life, such as “talking to strangers,” but never thought to warn them about venturing onto ice.

O’Rourke and his wife, Diane, have been married for 30 years. His career was in manufacturing and O’Rourke now works part-time at NAPA Auto Parts.

On a side note, his dog, Cork, followed O’Rourke onto the ice and wound up past him, but some people on the shore managed to call him back.

“I don’t think I had it in me,” to save someone else, he said.

O’Rourke, who never even got a sniffle from the ordeal, says, “I’m not a hero kind of guy.”