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Haiti quake sends father on blessing-filled odyssey for daughter

By Sammy Linebaugh

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, Jan. 24 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

"It was an awesome sight," Jeremy said. "We laid mattresses on the floor of the helicopters then put the babies on the mattresses."

As the helicopters slowly ascended, Jeremy looked out the window.

"The aunties were crying and waving to the kids. I look at Gabby, and tears are streaming down her face. I melted … it was finally real to her."

And real to the Utah father.

Almost.

We got to the (Port-au-Prince) airport and there is the U.S. Air Force. They all held the babies for like an hour; it was like a little slice of happiness even for them."

What Jeremy and the others didn't know was they were at the wrong ramp.

"Hollie called frantically, saying 'Where are you guys? The jet is leaving …'"

By the time the caravan of children and babies got to the right ramp, the jet already was taxiing.

"I started yelling 'Somebody stop that plane!' " Jeremy said. "I thought that was it. We've missed it. We're not gonna get these kids out."

And then, with no explanation, the jet stopped.

"It was the pilot. He couldn't leave these kids," Jeremy said. "He radioed in, 'I've got to fuel up.' He told me when I got onboard, he said, he stopped for fuel so he could buy more time."

One more angel, as Jeremy calls them.

"I am bonded to these people for life ... Jeremy Johnson and those guys are still down there. They're still doing the work. You've gotta call it what it is — a miracle that happens through people with an incredible heart."

Baber, the Dominican woman who first helped Jeremy arrange a ride in Santo Domingo, has since coordinated the collection of 14,000 pounds of food and supplies to help support the children who remain at Crèche. An estimated 90 more children orphaned by the quake are expected to arrive any day. Utah Haiti Relief will help deliver the aid.

"They're gonna keep saving hundreds of lives," Jeremy said.

'We're in heaven'

Saturday evening, Jeremy and his daughter Gabrielle arrived home to the cheers and tears of family — including Hollie and the couple's other five children, who anxiously have waited to meet their new sister.

"I was just overcome when I saw them come down the escalator. To see her little face, our family felt complete," Hollie said.

From his backpack, Jeremy pulled out a photograph he snatched from the windowsill next to Gabrielle's bed just before leaving the orphanage. It is a picture the 7-year-old had been keeping of her mom and dad in America.

For him, it is a reminder of that moment when the helicopters lifted off the ground and he saw his daughter's face, tears streaming down her cheeks.

A song was playing on the iPod.

"They handed me the headphones," he said," and the line was, 'I'm finding it hard to believe, we're in heaven ...' "

Sammy Linebaugh is a freelance reporter who has worked in Haiti. She spent time at Crèche Enfant Jesus in March 2009. For more information, visit www.utah haitirelief.org. e-mail: sammylinebaugh@yahoo.com

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