The sentiments expressed by public officials and police and firefighters were all the same -- Dracut youngster Patrick Canney saved lives last Saturday and it is all the more impressive that he's just 12 years old and can't even legally drive yet.
"Patrick, your presence of mind last Saturday may have saved your own life, as well as the life of your dad, your sister and any other motorist that may have been in the road that day." Mayor Ted Bettencourt said Thursday afternoon. "You were cool under pressure and showed tremendous courage each step of the way."
Bettencourt invited Patrick and his family down to City Hall for a special ceremony in which Bettencourt and other local officials, including Lt. Gov. Tim Murray who was in town on other business, praised Patrick's actions and quick-thinking. He also received a citation for community heroism from the city and a similar citation from Murray on behalf of Gov. Deval Patrick, along with some gifts from city employees.
Bettencourt said oftentimes, negative stories outweigh the positive things being done by local youth in Peabody and the area and that's why he wanted to recognize Patrick's heroic actions.
Patrick, his younger sister Samantha and father John Canney, were driving on I-95 South shortly before noon on Saturday when John suddenly suffered a seizure after taking the exit onto Route 128 North. Patrick quickly took control of the car and steered it to safety in the breakdown lane, applying the brakes as well.
Police officers note the roadway leading up to the Centennial Drive exit is a dangerous area as is, not even considering the circumstances that day.
Once the car was safely off the highway, Patrick dialed 911 on his father's cell phone and by the time officers arrived, he had safely escorted his sister outside the car and behind a guardrail. Their father was transported to the hospital and discharged later that same day. The family says he is doing well.
But Patrick, he stayed calm and collected through the entire ordeal, even leaving the car without a dent or scratch on it -- "He was just like a rock," said Gerald Fitzgerald, who was one of the first Peabody officers on the scene.
"As a parent, I'm just thrilled that a 12-year-old could do that," Fitzgerald said, adding that he was surprised to learn Patrick's age initially. He said he brought his own kids down Thursday to let them hear what Patrick did. "It's not a movie, it's not TV...this is a real thing -- it happened."
Fitzgerald said he's seen his share of eye-opening things in his career, but this is easily a once in a lifetime incident.
Patrick said he noticed their car was traveling very slowly and his father didn't appear to be registering what was happening, and that's when Patrick took over.
He also said it's not the first time he's pitched in during an emergency. The family's home had a major fire years ago and six-year-old Patrick, thinking quickly, grabbed the fire extinguisher; he just didn't know how to use it though.
Lt. Gov. Murray noted Thursday that Patrick's story has spread across the country now.
Murray said earlier in the week, he presided over a Sept. 11 ceremony in which an award for civilian bravery was presented in honor of Amy Sweeney. Sweeney was a stewardess on one of the planes that crashed into the Twin Towers, but before her death, Murray said, she was able to make a phone call and share key information about the terrorists that helped save lives.
"It is important that we take the time to recognize civilians who oftentimes don't have the training...as our first responders do, but who take actions like Patrick did," he said.
"We're very proud of you," Murray said. "You're a very impressive young man...you saved lives."
Police Chief Robert Champagne echoed those remarks.
"Oftentimes in this world we don't see great role models and we're always talking about role models for youth. And here we have a great example," Champagne said.
"We're all trained to know what to do and when to do it, but this is really about having the good sense to take quick action and respond appropriately," he said, adding that the greatest service a police officer can perform is to save a human life.
"You have a two-fold victory here," Champagne told the young boy. "You saved a human life and it's a member of your family."
In addition to recognizing Patrick's heroics, Bettencourt also recognized the first responders at the scene.
First he thanked Peabody police officers Fitzgerald, Fred Wojick and Mark Saia, who was off-duty.
"Officer Fitzgerald, I think, went above the call of duty. He not only went to the scene of the event, but then he took the two children to the hospital and stayed with them while their dad was being attended to," Bettencourt said. "I really appreciate you doing that."
Fitzgerald said after the ceremony that he and Wojick were faced with the question: "What are going to do?" as John Canney was transported to Lahey Clinic and mom Debra was on her way from Dracut.
Fitzgerald said Samantha kept asking about her dad, fearing the worst, and he and Wojick quickly decided that Fitzgerald would drive the family's car while Wojick followed in a cruiser. Once the children's mother arrived, the officers took their leave, although, Fitzgerald said, the children didn't want them to go.
He said the family came down on Tuesday to say thank you with a whole box of goodies from the Gingerbread Construction Co. in Wakefield.
Bettencourt also recognized state troopers Patrick Irwin and Shawn Stone, several Peabody firefighters: Deputy Chief Eric Harrison, Capt. Dale Kimball, Michael Hayes, Derek McCrea, Scott Patturelli, Michael Skerry, Armando Teixeira and Patrick Walsh, and Atlantic Ambulance EMTs Stuart McKay and Brad Williams.
"Congratulations Patrick, you did a great job," said Harrison, speaking on behalf of the Fire Department. "If you didn't do what you did, there probably would have been a lot of people hurt."
"So, enjoy your five minutes of fame," he added, smiling.
Asked what her reaction was at the time, Patrick's mother Debra Canney explained that she works as a nurse on the night shift. She had only returned home around 9 a.m. and was asleep for not even three hours when state troopers called her home, telling her there was an accident. She didn't know what to think at first.
She said Thursday she was "thrilled" nothing more serious occurred. As for her son's actions, well that's just Patrick -- he's always been cool under pressure.
"He has this old soul mentality...he's a calm, calm person," she said, adding that he just doesn't react the same way most other kids do. "He just goes with the flow of what's going on."