BY COLIN KRIEGER AND HOPE HARRINGTON OAKES
An 11-year-old Columbus boy is recovering in a Jackson hospital after he nearly drowned at the Columbus Riverwalk Monday afternoon. Michael Williams was playing with his brother, a cousin and a friend in the Tombigbee River under the Old River Bridge around 2:20 p.m. on Memorial Day when he suddenly disappeared under the choppy current. “Lil’ Mike”, as his cousin called him on scene, had been riding bikes and playing along the riding path before the accident occurred.
“I told him not to swim, I told him,” yelled Mike’s brother to firefighters as they arrived on scene. Witnesses had called E-911 operators after the boy had been rescued from the water by some timely heroes. Two officers with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, Mark McClesky and Travis McDonald, were patrolling the nearby waters of the Tombigbee when they saw two young boys screaming and waving their arms at them from the shore.
“We happened to be coming by this area here, and saw some kids swimming in the water. They flagged us down, so we stopped and drove up to the kids on the bank. One kid told me that his brother had drowned, and then pointed to me where he had gone under. Automatically, I took off my gun and my shoes and jumped in the water,” McClesky told The Packet Wednesday.
McClesky dove into the swift waters of the river three times before finally finding the boy. He was able to get him to the riverbank, where he was joined by an unidentified “good Samaritan” and McDonald, who had made his way back to the area after securing the boat a few yards up-shore.
“I was able to get him to the bank, he showed no vital signs: he wasn’t breathing, his heart wasn’t beating, he was non-responsive,” McClesky said. “I started CPR and he started to get the water back out of his lungs and was trying to breathe. My partner (Officer McDonald) actually then relieved me, continuing the CPR. We then rolled him over and started patting him on his back. He was slowly trying to breathe, still non-responsive, but his heart was beating. EMS arrived and we got him up the bank and they got him some oxygen, and he actually started moving his limbs, then they got him to the hospital.”
Years of intensive training kicked in for McCleskey and McDonald.
“I just did what we do,” he said. “We never know what we are going to be doing. It was just one of those things that when they told me someone was down, I knew I just don’t have very much time. It wasn’t much thinking, I just got in the water and started recovery.”
Columbus Fire and Rescue teams arrived on scene within a minute after the first call to E-911, and were joined shortly after by paramedics from Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle. The boy’s mother, Shaquita Williams, arrived on scene with her sister as her son Michael was being placed on a stretcher for his trip to the hospital. First responders got Michael to respond between coughs and even got a small smile out of him when he saw his mom arrive on scene. He was brought to Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle in stable condition and later transported to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson for further treatment. Shaquita Williams spoke with The Packet about the incident Wednesday.
“He’s doing great, he’s up walking, talking, playing,” Williams said.
Williams said her son’s lungs were clouded from being underwater for that long (between two and four minutes) and that he doesn’t remember much about the accident.
“He just remembers waking up in the ambulance,” she said.
Williams said she can’t fully express the gratitude she has for the men who saved her son that day.
When asked if she thought it was just a coincidence that the trained Wildlife agents were in the area when the accident occurred, Williams said,”It’s a miracle – a blessing. That’s God’s hand at work.”
For McCleskey, the hero said he was just at the right place at the right time.
“I don’t feel like a hero,” he said. “I really don’t. I was just glad that we were able to save him. I was just glad we were here. I do want to say thank you to the Good Samaritan who was walking on the track and saw that I was struggling to get the kid on the bank. He kind of secured his head while I performed CPR, and was a morale boost for me telling me ‘You’re doing good! Keep it up, keep it up.’ I don’t know who is, but I just wanted to say thank you for that.”
McDonald, who led the family in prayer as young Michael was leaving in the ambulance, said he knew there was some divine intervention that day on the shores of the old river.
“We got him back and got him back to life,” McClesky said. “The grace of God was working that day. I know God put us there at the right time.”
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