Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tragic end for homeless hero

River claims man who saved two from its waters

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Faron Hall gained national attention after saving two people from the Red River in 2009. His body was found in the river this past weekend.

The body of Faron Hall has been found in the same river from which he rescued a teen and rose to national celebrity as Winnipeg's "homeless hero."

He was recovered from the Red River on Sunday, police sources confirmed. Foul play is not suspected.

Hall, who was in his late 40s, rose to national prominence in 2009 after he rescued two people from the river in separate incidents, five months apart. His honours included medals, an endowment fund, a room at an expensive hotel, sports tickets, a flood of media coverage and photo opportunities with a string of politicians.

It was a great feel-good story, except for one consequence: Faron Hall stopped feeling good about the limelight. In a 2009 interview, he admitted he was used to living rough, usually sleeping outdoors on cardboard and regularly looking for a drink.

The public wanted to look up to him, but he wanted to return to living under a bridge.

"I just live a simple life and get by day by day. Hopefully, this will die down and I can get back to what I was doing before. I have to get my life back," he told the Free Press in 2009.

When she heard Monday morning the identity of the man police recovered from the river, the woman who welcomed Hall into her home went looking for the clothes he left behind on the water's edge last Friday.

Marion Willis said Hall had just returned to the city last week from his father's funeral.

It was Hall's homeless buddies who guided her to where he went into the water.

"They said the clothes were neatly folded." Marion said. "His shoes were on top of his clothes."

But when she got there, there was a tent pitched on the spot.

"And the clothes were gone."

Marion thinks Hall must have gone for a swim to cool off on a hot day.

"Hall was a really strong swimmer," she said. "We all know that.

"But the river is an ugly beast this year... and the current got him," Marion said.

"It's just such a terrible irony," she said.

"He was such a tortured soul," she added. "And a kind and giving person."

Hall was sitting with a friend under Provencher Bridge in May 2009 when he jumped into the Red River to rescue 19-year-old Joseph Mousseau. Mousseau had been kidding around on the bridge with two friends when he leaped over a railing onto what he thought was the pedestrian bridge, but instead of landing on concrete, he plunged into the river. Hall jumped into the frigid water and swam about 30 metres in a strong current to rescue the teenager.

In September 2009, Hall was drinking with four friends on the bank of the Red River in St. Boniface when one of his friends, a 19-year-old woman, slipped into the water. The woman's boyfriend jumped in to save her, but neither could swim. Hall leaped into the water and managed to save 19-year-old Tara Lynn Beardy. He went back in to try to save her 32-year-old boyfriend, Chris Harper, but he had gone under.

In the months following Hall's heroic efforts, his actions were praised by national media and politicians. He received the mayor's Medal of Valour, two medals from the Manitoba Life Saving Society, a stay at the Marlborough Hotel and honours in the gallery of the legislature. When Hall asked the Winnipeg Goldeyes owner, Mayor Sam Katz, if he could see a single Goldeyes game, Katz gave him season tickets to the baseball club and a Goldeyes jacket.

Katz was extremely saddened to hear the news Monday,

"As you know, Faron had saved the life of an individual from drowning not that long ago and here is his fate," Katz said. "As we all know, Faron was trying to make some changes in his life. It's a sad, sad situation. He wanted to live the life everybody lives and make a contribution."

The Winnipeg Foundation set up an endowment fund in his name to give grants to community groups that support the homeless.

While Manitoba hailed Hall as a hero, he continued to struggle with personal demons, including stints in rehab. In February 2010, Hall suffered serious injuries after being attacked by a man with whom he was drinking alcohol.

A member of the Dakota Tipi First Nation, Hall has said he grew up in a good foster home in Waverley Heights and worked as a teaching assistant before he became an alcoholic.

His mother was murdered on Maryland Street about a decade ago, and a sister was stabbed about three years ago.

He had four children, including a stepdaughter.

-- with file from Bartley Kives

Faron Hall honoured by Mayor Sam Katz - May 6, 2009

Faron Hall speaks about rescuing another person - September 5, 2009

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 19, 2014 B1


Updated on Tuesday, August 19, 2014 at 7:19 AM CDT: Replaces photo

7:27 AM: adds videos

8:42 AM: Adds slideshow

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