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'I didn't have the strength'

Heralded again as a hero, but river rescuer Hall mourns the man he couldn't save

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/9/2009 (3580 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It was Saturday afternoon -- the day after the incredible second coming of the homeless hero -- and a friend of Faron Hall's was calling me at home.

She had a message.

Faron was in hiding and he wanted me to call him.

Faron's friend said she had just spirited him out of his St. Boniface apartment and driven him to a place where he knew the media wouldn't find him. They had been parked outside his apartment door, in hopes of speaking to Faron about how he had rescued yet another person from the Red River.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/9/2009 (3580 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It was Saturday afternoon — the day after the incredible second coming of the homeless hero — and a friend of Faron Hall's was calling me at home.

She had a message.

Faron was in hiding and he wanted me to call him.

Faron's friend said she had just spirited him out of his St. Boniface apartment and driven him to a place where he knew the media wouldn't find him. They had been parked outside his apartment door, in hopes of speaking to Faron about how he had rescued yet another person from the Red River.

The second in four months.

Although this time it was different.

This time, instead of a young man who had been a stranger, it was a young woman he knew, 19-year-old Tara Lynn Beardy. And this time there was a second person he tried to save.

But couldn't.

Chris Harper was 32 and from Garden Hill First Nation.

"I'm still grieving," Faron said.

The grieving process wasn't helped, he said, when while they were still searching for the body, police took him and the others to the Main Street Project, to a drunk tank. Or worse, that Harper's grieving wife and soon-to-be widow Geraldine had been detained at the Winnipeg Remand Centre for what Faron said was a court-order breach.

And then the pack of media arrived at his door. It made him feel like a prisoner in his own home. A home that had been found for Faron in May after Mayor Sam Katz had awarded him with a medal of valour.

"I don't want it to be like before," Faron said. "I don't want it to be a media circus."

Obviously he wanted to tell his story, though. Faron wanted to see me.

 

"ö "ö "ö

I was greeted with a one-liner.

"We've got to stop meeting like this," he said.

But the mood changed abruptly when I asked him what happened.

Faron had been drinking with three friends on a T-shaped floating dock beside the Norwood Bridge.

Chris Harper and Geraldine had been camping at Faron's apartment for the past week. Young Tara had been staying with Faron for the past six weeks, ever since Faron found her at a McDonald's restaurant, her face swollen and bloody from a beating.

He told her she could stay at his place. He'd look after her.

Prophetically, as it turned out.

I asked Faron what happened.

He said Tara "slipped" on the dock and fell in. Tara, who was with Faron in his hiding place Saturday, thought she "tripped" over something on the dock.

The part Faron leaves out — as does Tara until I ask — is what she had been doing before she "fell" in.

About half an hour earlier — as Tara eventually told it — she and Geraldine had been playing around on the dock. They were getting ready to jump in the river together. But only Tara ended up in the water. Faron and Chris were able to pull her out.

When she landed in the water a second time, it was Chris who jumped in first to try and save her. Faron didn't react until he saw they were in trouble 20 metres from the dock.

He can't remember if he dove or just jumped in. But when he reached them, Faron recalls grabbing Tara first. Then Chris. The current, though, had hold of all of them.

‘And I was screaming, 'somebody help me.' I was screaming for someone to help us’ --  Faron Hall

JOE.BRYKSA@FREEPERESS.MB.CA

‘And I was screaming, 'somebody help me.' I was screaming for someone to help us’ -- Faron Hall

Faron said he tried to hang onto both.

"But I was going down, too. I had to let go of him. I didn't have the strength."

He remembers screaming at Chris to "swim... just swim."

By then he was just trying to tow Tara towards the dock.

"I had her under my arm. And I kept looking back and the last thing I seen was him, just disappear. Just disappear. Just, just like that."

Faron kept swimming.

"And I was screaming, 'somebody help me.' I was screaming for someone to help us."

Somebody turned out to be two people Faron described as "elderly Caucasian gentlemen." They helped pull Faron and Tara onto the dock.

Then Faron turned back for Chris.

"But he wasn't there," Faron said. "He wasn't there."

Faron was weeping now.

"I swam under the water for a little bit. I didn't want to go too down. It's so dark under there. So I came up, and I swam back."

On shore, Tara told him he should have saved Chris. Faron told Geraldine that he tried.

"I feel like I left him there. But I had no choice."

I asked him how he felt.

"I have a hole right here," he said motioning toward his chest. "Like, I let somebody down. I let, I let people down. I let people down... I didn't do what I could have done."

Then I told Faron something I'd heard. That since last May, when he was branded a hero for the first rescue, he felt as if people were just waiting for him to fall from the pedestal that had been built for him.

Waiting for him to fail.

"Yeah," he said.

I asked if that's how he felt now.

"I think it's going to feel it double, now," Faron responded.

But then he offered this story.

He and Tara went for coffee at McDonald's Saturday morning and people were coming up to him wanting to shake his hand, just like the first time.

"But it's different this time," he said. "Because I never thought I'd ever go through that experience again. It's like a — it's like going through a second nightmare.... Reliving it. But this time there were dire consequences. And I feel that I didn't do my best."

That's when I felt it was time to remind Faron of something.

Something that his fans at McDonald's — the ones who clearly weren't waiting for him to fail — had already told him.

You're a hero. Not a superhero.

You're a man, Faron.

Not a Superman.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

 

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History

Updated on Sunday, September 6, 2009 at 1:54 PM CDT: Police say Chris Harper was 32, not 28 as originally reported.

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