Julianna Marquez, 9, knew something was wrong. It was late afternoon on a hot June day, and no one else — not even the adults — seemed to notice the little boy face-down on the bottom of the apartment complex swimming pool.
Julianna Marquez the Saviour with Quamir Cooper the Survivor
Julianna, a third-grader with wavy brown hair, was nearby in the water. She swam beneath the surface and pulled 4-year-old Quamir Cooper to the pool’s edge.
“I wasn’t really thinking,” Julianna said Tuesday. “I was just like, ‘OK, I’m just going to grab him.’ ”
Julianna’s heroism was recognized in a poolside ceremony Tuesday after Roanoke County officials said she helped save Quamir from drowning at the pool of the Villages at Garst Creek in Roanoke County.
The police officers, paramedics and good Samaritans who helped gathered for the ceremony, where they recounted the drama that unfolded June 1.
Sheena Rosser, Quamir’s mother, was arriving at the apartment complex pool with Quamir and her daughter, Alaejah. The pool isn’t staffed by a lifeguard, and as she ran back to her car to grab pool towels, Rosser lost sight of the young boy.
Quamir floated briefly before sinking to the bottom of the pool’s 5-foot deep end.
Nearby, Julianna noticed Quamir hadn’t resurfaced.
Without hesitation, Julianna said, she swam to the bottom of the pool. She opened her eyes underwater and could see that Quamir wasn’t moving.
Julianna grabbed hold of Quamir’s tiny frame and lifted him to the surface. By then, adults took note of the struggle and helped lift the boy onto the concrete pool deck. His body was limp and showed no signs of life.
Timothy Tilley, sitting nearby with his children, rushed over.
“There was a panic, and I come over to see what was going on,” said Tilley, 30. “We realized the boy wasn’t breathing, so I felt like, you know, we was wasting time.”
Inside the apartment management office, Roanoke County police Officer Bobby Zizelman, 30, was wrapping up an unrelated call to settle a disturbance that had brought him and other officers to the complex.
“I heard a bunch of screams coming from the pool area,” Zizelman said. He ran outside and saw a group of people standing around Quamir.
As Zizelman radioed for an ambulance, Officer Darin Hogan, 42, ran from his car in the parking lot. He approached the unconscious Quamir and couldn’t find a pulse.
The boy was dying.
Sgt. Jay Matze, a 14-year Roanoke County police veteran, was leaving the complex from the disturbance call and heard Zizelman’s urgent radio call for help. He quickly turned around.
“By the time I got to the pool, I saw Quamir laying here on the deck,” Matze said. Tilley “was already at his head. I just came around and between the two of us, we started doing CPR.”
For three minutes, Tilley and Matze, 47, worked together to save Quamir’s life: Tilley issuing breaths through Quamir’s mouth, and Matze performing compressions on the boy’s torso.
“The thought never crossed my mind that he wasn’t going to come out of it,” Matze said.
Quamir tried to breathe, but started choking. Matze and other officers gripped him in the Heimlich maneuver and cleared his airway.
Life soon returned to the boy’s body and he began coughing up water. By the time a Roanoke County Fire and Rescue Department crew arrived a few minutes later, Quamir was crying and asking for his mother.
Quamir was taken to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, where he stayed for two days. Tuesday was the first time Quamir and his mother had seen the rescuers since the event.
Following the ceremony, Julianna hugged Quamir and asked if he was OK. The shy boy turned away from her — and the television and newspaper cameras — but offered up a smile across his mother’s arms.
“I owe my life to her,” Rosser said of the 9-year-old rescuer. “I would do anything for her. If it weren’t for her, he wouldn’t be here.”
Wednesday’s ceremony at the pool was attended by Roanoke County Police Chief Ray Lavinder, among other officials.
The officers who responded presented Julianna and Tilley with awards for their actions.
“In a day and age when nobody wants to help each other, this little girl and this guy … just hopped down there and no questions asked started giving CPR,” Zizelman said.
Matze, who said he has young children of his own, hugged Quamir and presented him with an honorary SWAT challenge coin, a police token that signifies participation in the elite group.
“When you grow up, you gotta do something nice for someone, OK?” Matze told him. “And when you grow up and you see me some day, you come find me, and you shake my hand.”