MARION COUNTY – Scott Cooper, a sergeant at Marion County correctional facility, was fishing from the dock of a nearby jetty in St. Pete Beach on Oct. 13, 2018.
The memories of that day still haunt him three years later.
“It’s hard; some days, I mean, I think about it a lot. I still have nightmares from it,” Scott Cooper said. “I was fishing on one side of it, and I went over just to bait my hook and heard, ‘Help! Help!’ from the water. And I look down, and I seen the little boy in the water, so I just jumped in, and as I was jumping in, I realized there was a girl right by him.”
It was a little boy, about 5 years old, and his older sister. They were trying to stay afloat from the strong rip currents.
“The rip current that day was more than anything I’ve ever been in,” Scott Cooper said. “I grabbed the little boy. He — I mean, he just climbed up right on me, and he kept putting me under, putting me under and as I was getting him, I was grabbing the little girl and I got them both pushed up against the dock.”
Waiting to grab the children was his wife, Gretchen Cooper.
“I just did what I had to do for those kids,” Gretchen Cooper said. “I was laying flat on that pier pulling that boy up, and I yelled and said, ‘Somebody help me!’ And another lady helped me, and we pulled him up.”
The children’s mother was too far out in the water and could not be reached, the Coopers said. Medics tried to revive her in the ambulance, but she did not make it.
“As I was floating myself back out there, I was thinking about trying to go out to the mom, but I knew I couldn’t, there was just no way; I was exhausted already,” Scott Cooper said, recalling he felt survivor’s remorse after that day and has not seen the kids since. “I just hope they’re doing OK, and I’m sorry I couldn’t do more that day. I really hope they are doing OK.”
It was Scott Cooper’s heroic actions that caught the attention of the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, an organization founded in 1904 that recognizes individuals who perform acts of heroism. In 2020, Scott Cooper received a bronze medal with his name on it for his actions that day.
The Indiana native remembers getting the letter in the mail two years after the incident and said he thought it was a joke.
“I typed it up on the internet and checked it out, and I’m like, ‘Hey it’s real,’” he said.
Scott Cooper has also received several other honors from the state and his peers from the Marion Correctional Institution where he’s worked for 25 years.
For him, he said the awards haven’t changed him. He was just at the right place at the right time.
“It’s just part of what every human being should do for another human being,” he said. “I honestly believe that somebody was looking over me that day. I really do because there’s no way I should’ve come out of that water.”