The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund chose Officer Sean O'Brien as the recipient of its Officer of the Month Award for January 2014.
"His willingness to risk his own safety in the face of danger to save the life of a child shows a true embodiment of a heroic spirit," memorial fund chairman and CEO Craig Floyd said in a release.
O’Brien, who is 27, has served on the Evanston Police force for five years, according to the release. He told Patch about the day he saved the boy's life after he was officially recognized by the Evanston city council.
One day in March 2014, O'Brien was driving home with his girlfriend in Des Plaines when they saw a young boy run out in the middle of the intersection of Miner Street and River Road. He tried to stop the boy, but the boy continued running down the street toward the Des Plaines River.
When he got to the bank of the river, the boy picked up a big chunk of snow that had been turned up by the plows and started playing with it. Suddenly, he threw the snowball in the icy water and jumped in after it.
O’Brien leapt out of his car and ran down the bank into the water after the boy. The river came up to his waist and reached nearly to the boy’s neck.
“I saw his winter hat, his orange Bears hat,” he recalled, as the boy briefly went under water. He came back up, O’Brien reached out his hand and the police officer pulled him to safety.
While O’Brien’s police training does not include water rescue, he says he’s been swimming all his life and is very comfortable in the water. Still, he was worried about the currents and the cold in the Des Plaines River. The boy was shivering slightly when O’Brien brought him to his car, and he cranked up the heat as high as it would go.
In the car, O’Brien and his girlfriend, Mallory Navarra, comforted the boy as they waited for emergency responders to arrive. Navarra brought their dog, Shandy, a Border Collie lab mix, out of the back of the car to distract him.
At first he was crying, but “When he saw the dog, he goes ‘Woof, woof!’” she recalls.
The boy’s mother later told O’Brien that her son is autistic, and had slipped out of a family member's house earlier that day, he said.
“She was just really thankful,” said O’Brien. “She’s so happy I was there.”
March 2013 is not the first time O'Brien has saved someone's life. In 2010, he freed a co-worker from her burning vehicle after a car crash and stabilized her until firefighters arrived. For that effort, he won the police department's Medal of Valor award.
O'Brien has also received the department's Officer of the Year Award, the city's Lifesaving and Valor awards, and the Hero Award from Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, according to the release.
He will be honored by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund at a special awards luncheon in Washington, D.C., in May 2015, during National Police Week.