Two Arizona men are now being hailed as heroes after one of them caught a 3-year-old boy thrown from the balcony of a burning building by his desperate mother while the other broke through the door of a blazing apartment to save the toddler’s sister after the mother succumbed to the flames.
A decade ago, Phillip Blanks, 28, a retired U.S. Marine, played wide receiver at Kalamazoo Central High School in Michigan. Last Friday morning, however, as he was visiting a friend’s apartment in Phoenix he rushed outside barefoot after hearing screaming.
He soon realized that the apartment complex was burning on the top floor and a woman, identified as Rachel Long, 30, was on a third-floor balcony with a child with flames behind her, The Washington Post reported.
“People started yelling for the lady to throw her kids down,” Blanks told the publication. The scared woman dropped her son and as he saw the boy, identified by family as 3-year-old Jameson Long, all his training from football and the military kicked in.
“I immediately got tunnel vision of the baby and somehow managed to catch him,” Blanks said of his heroic act that was caught on video and posted to social media.
"People were screaming 'there are kids up there' and to throw the kids down," Blanks told WWMT. "I saw another guy was standing there ready to catch the boy, but he didn't look like he was going to do it, so I stepped in front of him. The way I caught him damaged his foot, but the most important thing is his head was safe."
Blanks’ catch, however, wasn’t the end of saving the children of the Long family.
D’Artagnan Alexander, a 42-year-old barber, told The Washington Post that he was driving to work when he heard screams and noticed the flames from the building. He stopped his car and ran to the building. That’s when he heard a scream. It turned out to be Jameson’s 8-year-old sister, Roxxi.
“I heard someone scream for help and I found the girl on the floor and carried her outside,” said Alexander. “Everything happened so fast. I didn’t have time to think, my body just kicked into action and I went in.”
As a father of two young children, he explained, he didn’t hesitate when he heard that there were children inside the burning apartment complex.
“I have a 3-year-old and a 9-year-old, so when I heard there were kids in there, that really hit my heart,” Alexander said.
Cindy Traywick Rogers and Jess Wood, who appears to be a relative of Rachel Long, said the mother sacrificed her life to save her children in a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for the family.
“Rachel was able to make it to the balcony, where she dropped her son, Jameson, to neighbors waiting below. Eyewitnesses stated that Rachel was on fire at that time, but rather than jumping herself to safety, she went back in for her daughter Roxanne and sadly, did not return,” they wrote. “Reports say a passerby kicked in the door of an already engulfed apartment and heroically saved Roxxi.”
They described her as a “spirited” woman who was “the light” of her father’s life.
“Rachel, 30, was a mother, a wife, a sister, daughter, and granddaughter. She was a beautiful, spirited young woman who always lived life fully and on her own terms. She was the light of her daddy’s life. She is truly a hero. She made the ultimate sacrifice for her children,” they wrote on the campaign that has already raised more than $100,000 as of Friday morning.
In an update on Wednesday, Jess Wood said Blank and Alexander reunited with the children and met with other family members including Rachel’s husband, Corey, as well as her parents and they cried and prayed together.
“1st let me say we are so overwhelmed and humbled by all the support yall have given! The Lord never ceases to amaze me. Even in a world full of hate and rage....there is LOVE,” she began in the update.
“So today they met the heroes. They cried together, they prayed together, and they are hurting together. We have never been so grateful for the love of strangers. They will always be family now. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” Wood added.