Topeka Police Officer Aaron Bulmer knew something wasn’t right when he spotted a little boy standing alone in the city’s Central Park on a drizzly, crisp Sunday morning. He was responding to a robbery call, but became so concerned for the 3-year-old that he drove around the park to get a better look at him.
“I just felt like God was telling me you need to get around the block and go find out where that little boy is going,” Bulmer said.
Bulmer was alarmed when he could no longer see the boy, who, at a quick glance, reminded him of his own son. Before he got out of his vehicle, the officer switched on his body camera.
“Any time that we have citizen contact, we turn it on,” Bulmer explained. “Not more than two or three seconds later, I see Elijah basically drowning right there in the pond.”
Elijah Hamby was face down in the water. One moment, his arms were flailing. A second later, he was submerged. Bulmer took off at a sprint across the park, yelling to the boy.
‘Gasping for air’
“He was struggling. I saw a left hand go up in the air and then I saw his face in the water and I could see that he was just gasping for air. And, you know, it scared me,” Bulmer recalled. “It scared me as a parent. It scared me just as a person, a human being.”
Without breaking stride, Bulmer leaped into the pond and scooped the boy out of the cold water. Immediately, Elijah let out a cry.
“I heard that cry and that was like music to my ears as a parent because he was going to be all right,” Bulmer said.
At nearly 7 feet tall, Bulmer was standing about waist-deep in the pond somewhat stuck in the thick, muddy bottom. Because he had jumped in the water with all his gear on, his radio wasn’t working at first, so he yelled to a passerby to call 911.
The good Samaritan didn’t have a phone but he did take Elijah from Bulmer and carried him to dry land. Bulmer’s radio then started to work and he can be heard on the body camera video talking to dispatch.
“Got a kid who fell in the pond. I just got him,” he said, breathing hard. “I got a civilian who got him out. I’m still in the pond. Almost drowned.”
A woman also showed up and at Bulmer’s request, wrapped the cold child in her jacket. Still in the water, Bulmer called for an ambulance. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the park, Elijah’s father was frantically looking for his son.
A father’s frantic search
With his wife at work and their four other children at church, Jacob Hamby left Elijah, who is autistic, with some chocolate milk and his favorite television show for just a few minutes so he could use the bathroom. He even made sure the doors were all locked.
But what the parents didn’t know was Elijah had figured out how to work the deadbolt. Dressed in a long sleeve T-shirt, black pants and socks, their young son was quiet as he slipped out the door. When his father came looking for him, he found the back door open. He then started running around their neighborhood looking for Elijah before calling his wife at work and asking her to come home and help.
“He was in tears, hollering his name around the neighborhood. Neighbors were starting to come out, starting to help him look,” Elijah’s mother, Jaclyn Hamby, recalled of her husband.
Another police officer intercepted Jacob and told him his son had been rescued from the pond in Central Park, a park the family doesn’t frequent, though it is a block and a half from their home. They prefer to go to another park that is fenced.
Elijah is fine and still loves the water. His mother doesn’t think he remembers what happened. “I don’t even think he recollects that he was in danger’s way,” Jaclyn said.
Father and son were reunited at the ambulance. “Just like any parent, he was an emotional wreck. I mean he was in tears and very thankful that his son didn’t drown,” Bulmer said.
For Jaclyn, watching the body camera video is still upsetting.
“Just about any time I see it pop up anywhere, tears start to fall and my heart almost drops to my stomach,” she said.
She also acknowledged that her husband is still beating himself up a bit about what happened, even though he took precautions before heading into the bathroom. To make sure Elijah doesn’t slip out again, his parents have installed new locks and a chime that goes off if the door is opened. They are also looking into getting Elijah some swimming lessons.
Jaclyn said she believes Bulmer’s heroics speak to the kind of man he is. “I believe he would have done it whether he was in uniform or not,” she said.
She said she hates to think what would have happened if Bulmer hadn’t been there. “I think the terrible would have happened. I fear that I would have lost a child that day.”
Bulmer agreed. “It obviously happened so fast for me but just that split second — that visual image I still have in my mind right now even to this day two weeks later, I can see his face in the water. His face is down,” Bulmer quietly recalled. “He would have drowned. I would have said 30 seconds to a minute. … If I wasn’t there, he would have drowned. I’m thankful that I was in the right place at the right time to rescue Elijah.”