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Neighbors credited with saving 4-year-old drowning at apartment complex

By Emily Holwick

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    LAWRENCE, Kansas (KMBC) — Surveillance video captured the dramatic rescue of a 4-year-old boy drowning in a pool at a Lawrence apartment complex. KMBC 9 was there as the boy and his mother were reunited with the neighbors credited with saving his life.

Alexis Rigney held her son Xzavier tight as they smiled for the cameras. It’s a moment that may never have happened if it weren’t for quick-thinking neighbors.

“A lot of times we don’t get to celebrate these kinds of incidents and the way this turned out,” said ​Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical Battalion Chief Rob Freeup.

Just eight days prior, on May 18, heart-stopping surveillance video captured the moment 4-year-old Xzavier began to drown in the pool at the Lawrence apartment complex where his family lives.

“My friends were yelling at me to go get help,” said 12-year-old Maddox Westerhaus, who also lives at the complex. He ran to get his dad, Tom, who climbed the fence, pulled Xzavier out of the water and began CPR. He had learned it years ago as a lifeguard.

After two minutes and 41 seconds, Xzavier started breathing.

“Definitely when he started to cough up water and everything, I knew that was a good sign,” Westerhaus said. “I didn’t realize I had to keep going for so long.”

Responders arrived shortly after but say if Tom hadn’t jumped in, it might have been too late.

“Xzavier would’ve, could’ve been still under the water without really anything happening until we got there,” Freeup said.

“I’ve been in the fire service for 33 years and I’ve never seen this. We’re usually on the tail end of something that we’re trying our best and it usually has a negative outcome,” he said. “This was the one that we’ll carry with us basically for the rest of our lives.”

Xzavier’s mom says she was tending to her 4-month-old when she realized Xzavier, who has autism, was missing and the door was open. She ran outside and heard sirens. She followed responders to the pool, where she found her son.

“I don’t know what I would’ve done if (Tom’s) son wouldn’t have been out there, you know, seeing him in the pool,” she said through tears. “I’m just glad that he’s OK now, and he’s my best friend, so I don’t know what I would do without him.”

Tom and Maddox were given Hometown Hero awards from Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical for their life-saving actions.

Responders say drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death in children. They say what happened in this case is a sobering reminder that drowning doesn’t always look like you might think.

“Drownings don’t always draw attention to themselves,” Fleeup said. “It’s just attentive people and just eyes on the water and paying attention to your surroundings that save lives.”

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