Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Woman saves two drowning boys from chilly lake

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It's an odd question, but everyone's asking Melody Harper: "How cold was the water?"

The 35-year-old mother plunged into the remote northern Island Lake on Sunday afternoon and pulled out two drowning boys who were floating in the water.

Erlin Harper, 3, had to be airlifted to Winnipeg but he was released and returned Wednesday to Garden Hill, 980 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

"I got him to shore, and that's when I started giving him mouth-to-mouth. I kept at it until finally there was a little bit of water that started coming out of his mouth and nose. I knew it was working and he'd be all right."

Erlin's older brother, Stephan Harper, 4, came to on his own almost instantly as soon as Harper and her daughter Kalvina, 12, pulled him ashore.

Harper sensed danger the instant she saw a group of children on a rock by the water's edge on a Sunday drive around the community. When one boy fell into the water, Harper sped up to the nearest road and she and her daughter charged through dense bush to reach the rock with the kids.

By the time she and her daughter got to the shore, there were two lifeless bodies floating face-down in the water. One boy was floating about a metre from shore, the other about another metre beyond that.

Both kids had wandered off from family members when the accident happened.

As for the water, nobody knows the temperature, but spring breakup was mid-May this year.

"That's what everybody is asking, if the water was cold. I don't remember. I didn't have time to think if it was cold or not," Harper said. "I knew I had to go in there and save them."

All week, people have been coming up to Harper, a clerk at the Island Lake RCMP detachment.

"People are saying that 'We're glad you're fine,' and 'What would have happened if you hadn't been there?' "

The boys' parents said in a phone interview Thursday they are very grateful to the woman who rescued the children.

"I was too scared to say thank you. I'm a shy person," said the mother, Tammy Harper.

The mother said she's seen Harper's daughter. "I said 'Thank you' to Melody's daughter. I keep hugging her and she said, 'Don't cry. He's alive.' "

In addition to the Melody Harper who rescued the two small brothers, there are two other women by the same name in the northern community. Some grateful residents, unsure which Melody rescued the boys, are thanking all three women.

"She's not the type of person who can think of doing something like this, but the instincts of a mother took over and she knew there was no waiting around," said Cpl. Ryan Merasty, the acting commanding officer of the detachment.

"She had to do what she had to do," he said. "I'm very proud of Mel."

The RCMP detachment serves 10,000 people by boat and helicopter in the surrounding mainland First Nations of Wasagamack, St. Theresa Point, Garden Hill and Red Sucker Lake, north of Island Lake.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 29, 2012 A6

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