Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 26, 2013
Frank Torres is an official hero. He’s got a medal, a trophy and a certificate to prove it.
But really, all the 13-year-old Southeast Middle School eighth-grader needs as evidence of his courage is the presence of the little girl who sat across from him this week at a table covered in Pokemon cards.
Frank’s sister, 7-year-old Jayleen Torres, might have drowned last summer if Frank hadn’t risked his life to save her and a younger cousin.
Frank and Jayleen, children of Delia Guzman, traveled to Naples, Fla., in June to spend time with relatives. On June 18, they went to the beach with their grandmother, an aunt and two cousins.
Frank waded into the Gulf of Mexico with Jayleen and 6-year-old cousin Fabian Guzman.
“At first, they both were right behind me,” Frank said.
Then they weren’t. A rip current had pulled both of them away from shore, into deep water. Frank saw Jayleen about 10 feet out, and Fabian several feet beyond her.
“I saw my sister drowning,” he said. “She was going up and down in the water. She would go down, then come back up, then go down.”
Jayleen said the gulf “felt like it was 50 feet tall.”
Frank swam out to Jayleen and pulled her back to shore. Then he went back out for his cousin, who was floating in the water, apparently unconscious.
But when he reached Fabian, the rip current caught Frank, too.
“I was in trouble,” he said.
He fought to stay above the surface, but was pulled under and began gulping water. His 16-year-old cousin, Ezequiel, came out after both boys and himself got caught in the current.
Frank said people in small boats pulled them all out of the gulf and took them back to shore.
Jayleen was OK, but Frank, Ezequiel and Fabian were all rushed to the hospital in critical condition. Ezequiel was released that day. Frank stayed in the hospital overnight. Fabian was there three days.
They all made a full recovery.
A TV news team covered the story, and later, Delia Guzman got a call asking if she could bring Frank back to Florida for another recognition, this one from the Collier County Sheriff’s Office.
Frank was one of 10 youngsters — out of 45 nominated — presented with a “Do the Right Thing” award by the sheriff’s office Oct. 7. Ezequiel also was one of those honored. Frank was the only one from outside the Collier County area.
“I felt proud,” Frank said.
When he got back to Southeast Middle, Frank’s award was announced on the morning news there. And even kids who didn’t hear that know about the award, he says, “ ’cause I bragged a lot.”
He’s got a right to brag some. Frank’s mom says he’s an A-B student who takes advanced math and plays soccer. And that’s on top of being a hero and a good brother to Jayleen and 5-year-old Jahirra Catalan.
“He’s a really good kid,” Delia Guzman said. “I was proud of what he did, and I’m still proud of him now.”
And the honors may not be over. Frank has been nominated for a Carnegie Medal for heroism.
Frank said he doesn’t want to go swimming — not right now, anyway — but if he saw someone in trouble, he’d probably help no matter where they were. And that’s the message he wants to send others, “to be active and do the right thing.”