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By Echo Menges
A fateful day at the Hurdland Sever Lake brought two strangers together in a remarkable effort to save a life.
On Tuesday afternoon, June 23, 2020, Brett Bradley, 24, of Brookfield, MO, attempted to swim the width of the lake. Bradley had swam from one side of the lake to the other before. His companion, Theresa Boatman, 19, of Hurdland, MO, was uneasy about the idea from the beginning.
“I was on the beach on the north side. I had my swimsuit on. I was in the water playing with Jackson and Avery and watching him to make sure he didn’t get into trouble. I told him not to do it. He said he was going to swim from beach to beach because he’d done it before,” said Theresa Boatman who was also caring for her six and nine-year-old cousins.
Bradley made it to the center of the lake and began signaling he was in distress.
“He was yelling, ‘Help me! Help me! Lord don’t take me!’ He was in the middle of the lake,” said Boatman. “It was scary.”
Boatman found herself in a predicament because she cannot swim.
“I ran to the car and grabbed the floaty, a chair donut type. It was only a quarter to a half full. I can’t swim and I didn’t want to go out there and not be able to help him,” said Boatman. “I told the kids stay put. Do not get in the water.”
Other lake visitors on the north side of the lake moved toward the kids to look after them while Boatman ran into the water with her floaty.
On the other side of the lake, Ana Kronick, 31, of Greentop, MO, was in the middle of a three-day camping trip with her 14-year-old son and two of his friends. She also heard Bradley yelling for help from the south side of the lake.
“I hollered at the guy asking, ‘Are you drowning,’” said Ana Kronick.
“Ana was on the other beach on the south side of the lake where the other playground is. She thought he was joking around at first, but realized he was in trouble and jumped in to help,” said Boatman.
Bradley was yelling and taking on water. His cries became muffled by water entering his airway as he bobbed up and down, which added to the stressors of the women trying to save him.
“I just ran out there. I told the kids to call 911 as I was running out there. I was super proud of them for getting it figured out. It was one of his friends and he never had to do anything like that before,” said Kronick. “It was a surreal kind of thing because it happened so fast. Instinct took over. Someone was in trouble and I had to help him. He was frantically hollering for help, going under, coming back up with another, ‘Help!’ You could hear him getting muffled by the water. It was scary.”
“She was a little closer to him and made it to him first,” said Boatman. “She barely could keep him above because he was freaking out.”
“That was scary for a minute. I got there and he was way bigger than I anticipated. I don’t think he realized I was there at all. He was like a limp noodle. He was talking but didn’t respond to anything just saying, ‘I can’t see. I can’t breathe. Help.’ I don’t know how fast I was swimming out there. We made it before he went under. I didn’t know that I could go that fast,” said Kronick.
“When I got there, she handed me him. I grabbed him on his shoulder and under his arm, and still had my hand on the floaty and told him, ‘Everything is going to be okay.’ And I’m not going to let anything happen to him,” said Boatman. “Ana made sure we were okay and helped me swim him to the south side of the lake. He was dead weight. He couldn’t help kick or anything. He was conscious but out of it. He wasn’t responding.”
“Getting him back was hard. We started to drift in the wrong direction. She showed up and we worked together to keep his head up and hauled him in on the floaty,” said Kronick. “He must have exerted all of his energy. If he were still in hysterics it could have been dangerous. Bless her soul. She paddled across that lake when she couldn’t swim. She showed up with that floaty just in time.”
Once the women got Bradley to the shore on the south side of the lake, they drug him onto the shore.
“We barely got him on there. His head and chest were on the beach and his legs were still in the water. We stayed there until the ambulance got there,” said Boatman. “I stayed with him and talked to him the entire time.”
Thanks to the teens on the south side of the lake, Knox County first responders began arriving shortly after the trio made it to safety including the Sheriff, the Hurdland Volunteer Fire Department, the Knox County Ambulance District and Rescue Squad who took over for the women and took Bradley to the Northeast Regional Hospital in Kirksville, MO.
“One of them called 911. All of their phones were dead so they used mom’s to call,” said Kronick.
“My dad and I went to the hospital and they let us in for five minutes to see him. They let his mom in for five minutes to see him, too, because it was such a traumatic incident,” said Boatman.
Kronick and her party of campers stayed back at the lake in disbelief of what just transpired.
“It was a shakup for everybody. I was so proud of my son and his friends. They talked to the first responders. No one ever lost their cool. Afterwards, we all just sat around the fire kind of like – woah – that just happened,” said Kronick. “This has definitely been an exciting camping trip and a lesson for them – that unexpected things happen.”
“I don’t know where I learned that. It just clicked. The hardest part was getting out there because I can’t swim,” said Boatman.
The women connected on Facebook after the incident and received fanfare from people throughout the region after learning about their heroics from news reports posted online from The Edina Sentinel and KTVO Channel 3 in Kirksville.
“It went on NEMOnews.net and people started talking and asking us about it,” said Kronick. “Life is mysterious. We can be put into the exact right place we need to be in. If I were anywhere else – I never would have heard him.”
“I’m really glad he’s okay. It could have turned out a lot worse,” said Boatman.