Police rescue N.J. boy stuck in mud up to his neck

Posted: March 24, 2013

Quick action by police saved a nine-year-old Gloucester County boy with autism who was found submerged up to his neck in the thick mud of the Mantua Creek during an incoming tide.

The unidentified child from the Mount Royal section of East Greenwich was reported missing by his parents at 3:45 p.m. on Saturday after he wandered away from his Billows Drive home.

Three K-9 units, from East Greenwich, Logan, and Deptford Townships, tracked the child's scent to the banks of the creek near his home where they found his shoes, said Chief Barry Jenkins, East Greenwich Police Department.

"They saw him sinking in the mud and heard him screaming," said Jenkins. The child was about 400 yards off shore on the other side of the creek and going under fast; the tide was quickly rising, he said.

Seven officers and three dogs immediately plunged into the frigid water and swam 20 yards across the creek. The officers then crawled on their hands and knees through the muddy marsh to reach the child. The officers furiously dug with their hands until they were able to release the boy.

"They got under his armpits and pulled him from the muck," said Jenkins. The child was naked when freed from the mud, Jenkins did not know if the clothes were stuck in the mud or if the child had discarded them.

Then the officers had to rescue one of their own, when East Greenwich Officer Bill Crothers also became trapped.

East Greenwich Sgt. Matt Brenner was the officer who swam the child back across the creek to safety, Jenkins said.

"They definitely sacrificed their own safety for this little boy," said Jenkins.

The boy was reunited with his father and taken to Underwood Hospital for evaluation. Jenkins estimates the boy was within minutes of drowning due the incoming tide.

"I am very proud to be their chief," said Jenkins.

Jenkins said the officers acted quickly and didn't take time to remove any of their weapons or gear which may have been ruined by the brackish water and dirt. With recent budget cuts, Jenkins said he is not sure if he has the money for replacements.

Contact staff writer Mari A. Schaefer at 610-313-3125, mschaefer@phillynews.com or @MariSchaefer on Twitter.

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