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Three White Crosses Along the Kankakee

Three deaths along the Kankakee River in Illinois show the human capacity for self-sacrifice. Two men drowned trying to save a woman who had jumped into the river to save her 4-year-old son. The boy survived. His mother did not.

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SCOTT SIMON, Host:

A tragedy occurred along Illinois' Kankakee River this week, something both awful and awesome. Four-year-old Brian Santoyo(ph) was playing while his uncle and his mother and grandmother were resting, when he fell into the river on the downstream side of a five foot dam.

His mother, Delia Santoyo, jumped in to try to save him, but even small dams can have a strong undertow. She was pulled below the surface of the water too. By the time Police Sergeant Rick Juster(ph) reached the scene, more than a dozen had jumped into the river to try to save the little boy and his mother. Some were relatives, like Brian's uncles, Eric and Jaffett(ph) Santoyo.

Many were strangers, like Joe Rosado and Andres Alvarez(ph). All of them found that they had to struggle for their own lives to try to save Delia and her son. Andres Alvarez was able to reach them and held them above the water. Strangers threw him a rope to try to pull them all in from the swirling waters, but the rope rubbed against the concrete and snapped.

Alberto Medina(ph) and his wife Tamaris(ph) and their two children heard the cries and saw the commotion. Mr. Medina ran toward the dam, instinctively, unhesitatingly, and jumped into the water to help. Joe Rosado leapt in and was able to take Delia Santoyo into his arms. Sergeant Juster and his partner jumped in and were able to get Brian onto the shore.

The sergeant breathed into Brian's mouth. The little boy coughed up and came alive, but they couldn't revive Delia Santoyo. She died trying to save her son. She was 27. Alberto Medina also drowned trying to save the Santoyos, whom he didn't know. He was 28. His two daughters are seven and three.

Brian's uncle, 16-year-old Eric Santoyo, got caught in the circling water and survived, but his brother Jaffett disappeared and drowned trying to save his nephew and his sister-in-law.

Jaffett Santoyo was 23 and a U.S. Marine. He'd just returned from two years in Iraq. His family remembered how he loved franks and once filled a piñata with tortilla flour. His brother said, When it broke everyone was covered, only their eyes were showing. It would make everybody laugh and bring the whole family together.

So this weekend there are three white crosses along the river surrounded by candles and rosary beads. Family members and friends have written messages. Eric Santoyo wrote his brother Jaffett, I will never forget you; I will always be with you in this world or the next; I promise your wishes and goals will come true.

Tamaris Medina said of her husband, He was a great guy; if he were still living, he would do it again. And Brian Santoyo is in stable condition in Chicago's Children's Memorial Hospital. He is four years old and has an awful lot to live for.

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Simon SaysSimon Says NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small
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