Michaela Sullivan isn't sure whether it was intuition or simple luck, but in either case, she's grateful. While sunbathing poolside at her Brentwood apartment complex Sunday afternoon, the 15-year-old Liberty High student looked up and noticed that her 5-year-old neighbor had suddenly gone missing.
I don't know what made me notice that she wasn't there, said Michaela, But I asked the girl's mom, who was sitting with us, where her daughter was. And then I looked in the water and saw another little girl, who is only 4, trying to pull her out.
Michaela immediately dove into the deep end of the pool, grabbed both girls and pulled them to the side of the pool. The 4-year-old who had been trying to save her friend was all right once she got her footing. The other girl whose family has asked that her name not be released wasn't as lucky.
When I flipped her over she was completely limp in my arms, said Michaela. Her whole body was purple and blue and then her mouth started foaming. It was very frightening. I didn't know how long she had been in the water or anything, I just knew that she was unconscious.
Cradling the body in her arms, Michaela began yelling for someone to call 911.
Marine Sgt. Miguel Hinojosa, 33, who lives in the complex with his family, was dozing on a nearby chaise lounge when he awoke to the sounds of his mother-in-law screaming for help. Jumping up, Hinojosa saw the little girl laid out on the sidewalk and ran over. Seeing that she was unconscious, he immediately began administering CPR.
When I got to her she had no pulse and wasn't breathing, so I just started working on her, said Hinojosa. I don't really remember much except that I kept talking to her, saying, Come on baby, work with me.' I just had this image of my own 5-year-old in my head and it was pretty scary.
By the time the paramedics arrived, Hinojosa had been able to revive the girl. Airlifted to Children's Hospital in Oakland, she was resting comfortably when Hinojosa visited her before she was released on Tuesday.
You know, I was just bothered by it all. I didn't sleep very well Sunday night, so on Monday I called the hospital to see how she was doing, said Hinojosa. And of course they wouldn't tell me anything, so I just went over to the hospital. Walking into that room, and seeing her face was a great feeling. I just needed to see her for myself. I slept great that night.
East Contra Costa County Fire District Battalion Chief Jeff Burris said that happy endings such as this are more often the exception to a tragic rule.
Very rarely does something like this turn out so well, said Burris. It has to be just in the nick of time for it to work out, and this time it was. Basically, it's all about neighbors helping neighbors. They were all lucky.
Hinojosa, who shrugs off being called a hero, says that for his part, he's just happy he was able to help.
It was a pretty traumatic event, he said. It's not something you expect to see happen. As far as being a hero, I don't know what a hero feels like, but I just did what I was always trained to do as a Marine. I'm glad I was there.
Michaela, who says she feels a little bit like a hero, calls the episode a grim reminder of how suddenly a tragedy can occur.
I guess the moral of the story is that anything can happen in a second, she said. I'm just really glad I could be there. Everybody's very grateful.