Mormon FBI special agent performs dangerous water rescue in Puerto Rico
Gonzalez, who’s learned to speak near-fluent English, said he wants to honor the miracle of that day with his daily choices. “I am going to live my life worthy of his rescuing me. I want to be better: a better student and a better man.”
He describes the push he felt then in the water and now on ground to go on with his life. “I help everybody I can,” he said. “I want to be like Daniel. If I were to see someone drowning, I would swim out for them. I would try to save them because he did that for me.”
The longer we spoke, the more it became clear that Gonzalez didn’t just mean someone drowning in water, but someone being pulled under by loneliness, sadness or sickness.
Today, Gonzalez has lofty and admirable goals. He wants a college degree, a family and a career with the FBI. One of his greatest dreams is to carry on Knapp’s professional legacy and to contribute in his own way.
Who would bet against him?
Certainly not Danny’s uncle, Carter Knapp. I first learned of Danny’s heroics from Carter and his wonderful wife, Yvonne, my good friends in our small town of Woodstock, Va. Danny was extremely close to his aunt and uncle, even inviting them to serve as his substitute parents at his graduation from the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va.
In fact, they were at his side as often as possible, joining other family members six years later when Danny won both FBI honors in Washington, D.C. Because of the tragedy seven weeks later, Carter Knapp was the last member of the family to see Danny alive. They embraced a final time at the departures curb at Dulles International Airport.
Carter recalled his reaction to the news of Danny’s death. “The rescue was totally in line with what we know about Danny — always thinking about others without regard for self. That’s how he lived and how he died. Knowing how Danny lived his life, he would always make the choice to help others with no thought for himself.”
I’ve also had the privilege of exchanging email and speaking by phone with Hector’s mother, Milagros López. “We will never forget Danny Knapp,” she wrote in Spanish. “He was a great man, both in his work and as a human being. This past December, we all went to the beach in Fajardo, remembering everything and thanking God for the opportunity to continue living. We salute Danny Knapp and his family forever.”
They aren’t the only ones paying tribute. The FBI has named several things after agent Knapp and are preparing a multimedia overview of his life that will run on a digital kiosk in all 56 of the bureau’s field offices.
I spoke to agents in San Juan and asked them to reflect on Knapp and his career. Special Agent Maritza Conde-Vazqu called Knapp an outstanding agent and human being. “His contributions to Operation Guard Shack, the largest public corruption investigation in FBI history will never be forgotten. Moreover, Danny is a role model to follow. His way of life exemplifies the core values of the FBI. Fidelity to the right things, Bravery in the face of adversity and Integrity in all things. He is missed by his friends and colleagues from the San Juan Division and every one that knew him."
While all would agree he is missed, none would deny his mission lives on. Hector Gonzalez pledges a better life, the FBI honors his career, Danny’s brother David Knapp carries a literal piece of him each day in a healthy kidney.
There are others, still. All of Danny’s organs were donated and the FBI reports that several more lives were saved as a direct result of his healthy lifestyle and sacrifice.
Had Danny Knapp finally done enough? Was he finished serving, at last?
His family probably thought so, at least until Easter morning, 2012. It turns out Knapp had at least one more life to change. And this time, the rescue was spiritual.
Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including "Christmas Jars," "The Wednesday Letters," and "The 96th Annual Apple Valley Barn Dance." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or jasonfwright.com.
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