Skip to main content

On an otherwise normal Wednesday, Juan Serrano and his wife had agreed to attend a community nonprofit event at their church. He told her he was too tired to go to church, but she urged him to rally, even suggested they get a bite to eat on the way home. That’s how they found themselves driving on highway I-95 near Petersburg, Virginia after dark. You could say they were in the right place, at the right time.

As they crossed the bridge over the Appomattox River, Serrano saw a young man who was pacing and appeared disturbed. So the driver stopped and asked if he needed a ride.

“As I was approaching the kid, I saw that he was pacing himself, so I asked him if he needed a ride if he was ok.”

When the young man saw Serrano, he spooked and moved to the edge of the bridge. Serrano said, “When he started getting to the edge, I started running and he just jumped into the water.”

Serrano didn’t lose a minute, he ran to the downriver side of the bridge and watched for the jumper. The young man popped up, screaming for help.

The white rapids of a raging river, bedrock visible in the foreground.
Raging River | Dylan McLeod via Unsplash

Serrano said, “I thought ‘alright we got to get him out of the water’ because it could’ve been my kid.” So the eight-year Army veteran leapt off the 50-foot bridge and in to the icy water.

He swam quickly to catch up to the young man. Then he helped him stay afloat as the current swept them down stream. Serrano’s wife said they were in the water for 30 minutes. Serrano was finally able to climb out of the current at a water treatment plant a full mile down stream.

He wrapped his belt around the youth’s backpack to pull him ashore too. Then he took off his own clothes to wrap up the cold, young man. Emergency services took the young man to the hospital and Serrano got back in the car with his wife. On the drive home, the full shock of the night hit him. But he says he doesn’t regret leaping off a 50-foot bridge in the pitch dark.

“Being able to be with the kid and get him out of the water and give him help at the moment, it values everything that I stand for…We have to be able to heal people crying for help before something like this happens. We need to be preventing, not reacting.”

Juan Serrano

Serrano did agree to an interview on the news. He said he doesn’t want to draw attention to himself, but rather to the need for mental health care. He also had a message for the man he saved, “God loves for you and has a purpose for you.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the suicide and crisis lifeline at 988.

Next, read about an 18-year-old girl willing to sacrifice herself to save a wheelchair-bound woman trapped on train tracks, or see an interview with Juan Serrano in the video below: