Valley Middle School Student Saves a Life; Awarded Medal from Boy Scouts
“Not all heroes wear capes” is a popular phrase. Sometimes, they wear swimming trunks.
Jake Friebel, a then-13 year-old Boy Scout and student at Valley Middle School, took a trip to Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park on June 13, 2020. The park is a popular Missouri destination famous for its swimming and natural stone formations that are often used as water slides by visitors to the park. Jake was with his family and a few friends.
Jake was having a good time, sliding down and into the water. As he got to the bottom, he waited for the rest of his group.
“A girl, probably 16 or 17, got in front of them and went down. Along with the slide, another slide led into the same pool, and the angles of these two formed a whirlpool at their ends. The spot I was waiting at was in between both of the currents, so I could hang on,” said Jake.
Over the course of five minutes, Jake would become a hero.
“(The girl) stopped in the middle of the whirlpool to look for a friend. If you swam through, you would make it just fine. She stopped directly in the middle of it, and started to fight the current,” Jake said.
As the girl fought the current, she quickly became tired and struggled. She was dragged below the surface of the water.
“The first time I pulled her out I could barely see her hands under the water. I pulled her over to the rock that I was hanging onto before.”
She then inexplicably let go of the rock and tried to swim through the water.
“Yet again, she stopped, turned around, and got pulled under again. I could not see her hands this time,” Jake said. “I assume she was around two to two and half feet under water when I pulled her out.”
This time, Jake pulled her away from the whirlpool, making sure she could not go back under the water.
How did he know she needed help?
“I figured she was drowning, as the first time I could tell she was flailing around underwater, and when she came up she coughed up a bit of water. The second time, I knew she was already tired so it was obvious.” He added, “I wasn't really thinking when it happened, it felt like an instinct, where you don't think, you just do it.”
After it was over, Jake went about his business, but his parents were impressed with his actions.
“I was in awe of Jake when I saw him grab the girl. Then when she went under again and he had to go under to grab her, I was just shocked. So many emotions came over me I was so proud. His dad and I, along with the other families, were going on and on about how amazing that was,” said his mother, Jennifer, who is a paraprofessional at the Northwest Early Childhood Center.
“To this day, he still thinks everyone makes a huge deal over it for nothing because he says ‘what else would I have done, watch her drown?’ He doesn't think it was a big deal at all that he reacted in such a great way to save her, he thinks it's natural instinct for anyone,” Jennifer said.
That was it, or so Jake thought. His scoutmaster asked Jennifer about their weekend.
“I told Jake to tell him what happened. That is when we found out he could possibly get an award from the Scouts for it,” she said.
Jake said, “I was joking around to my Scoutmaster and said ‘Hey maybe I can get a complimentary lifesaving merit badge’, and he said I could actually submit it for a lifesaving award. I submitted it to be considered for the Medal of Merit to the Boy Scouts Greater Saint Louis Area Council, and they decided to send it to the national organization of Boy Scouts of America.”
The Boy Scouts not only approved Jake’s Medal of Merit, but they insisted on giving a higher honor, the Heroism Award, which he received in a ceremony on April 10, 2021.
Along with the award comes attention. He was interviewed for a segment on KMOV-TV which aired on April 16, and Scout Life magazine will feature him in the “Scouts in Action” section of their November, 2021 issue. Jake, who is now 14 years old and in eighth grade, is a typical student who likes to code, play video games, and play bass guitar who just happened to save someone’s life.
“I feel proud to know that I saved a human life,” he said, “but it feels a little weird to go from being an everyday student living an average life to having everyone who hears about what happened coming up congratulating you.”
Humble and down to earth. Pretty typical for a hero.