SALT LAKE CITY — Angel Fernandez is only 15 years old, but in less than a year's time he has been touched firsthand by tragedy and ecstasy, experiences that are shaping the direction of his life.
Angel's best friend was killed in October while walking to school.
Edwin Cardoso, 14, was crossing 600 North on his way to West High when he was struck by a utility truck. Angel, 15, said he saw Edwin that morning and had walked with him briefly before being picked up. He offered Edwin a ride, too, but his friend preferred to walk.
"He walked everywhere," Angel said. "It wasn't just school. If you asked him for a ride he would say 'No' and would just walk. He loved doing it."
Angel was in class when he was called to the school counselor's office three or four hours later and was asked if he had heard what happened. He had no idea what they were talking about.
Then they told him.
"The first thing that went through my head was, 'What type of person would not see a kid walking across the street?' So when I went through in my mind I kept asking, 'What hit him? Was it someone who was texting and driving? Was it a drunk driver?' No. It was just a 19-year-old kid."
He first went to see Edwin's mother, then to the place where his friend was hit.
"It was extremely hard for me," he said. "It was hard because I felt like I could have done something to stop it. I thought through it plenty of times. I still think through it. I think, 'What if he had said yes (to the ride)?' He would still be here."
Edwin was pretty quiet, but was also energetic and always knew what to say and do in a situation. Angel still misses his "randomness" and the way he could always make him laugh with a sporadic text.
He said he came to grips with Edwin's death. But not long after, he started wondering when something good would happen to him after such a devastating loss.
A day to swim
On June 19, Angel went to swim at the Willow Cove Apartments, 9300 S. Redwood Road, at the invitation of his aunt, who lives at the complex. A woman with a young son let him into the pool area. Later, Angel and the son were both in the pool, both swatting at the same pesky bee.
Angel was swimming in the deep end of the pool when he saw an empty flotation device. It looked familiar and he was trying to remember which child he had seen using it when a girl pointed out something on the bottom of the pool.
He immediately dove down, picked the boy up and brought him to the surface. He said several years as a Boy Scout helped him know what to do.
"I've been trained for this," Angel said, adding that he also tried to help the mother perform CPR. "(The boy) was small. He wasn't breathing, he was stiff and he was actually extremely heavy.
"At first I was like, 'I just pulled a kid out of the water. I hope he's breathing.' And then once I laid him down, I stared at him for a little bit and noticed he wasn't breathing and then it finally came to me that he was really cold and heavy, so I was really scared."
He said that by the time firefighters and paramedics arrived, the boy was breathing again. Angel said he had repeatedly told the boy's mother that it would be OK. The woman thanked and hugged him and left with her child, who was transported to the hospital.
"I was in so much shock," Angel said. "I was so amazed I knew what to do. I was kind of worried. I didn't know what to do or what to think because I didn't know if he was OK or not."
Eventually, his sister got in touch with the boy's mother who reported that the child was doing well.
"It was a giant relief," Angel said. "I was extremely happy."
Not long after, Angel's family learned that the teenager would be receiving a lifesaver award from the city of West Jordan. West Jordan Fire Chief Marc McElreath said the awards are given to civilians who intervene in situations and save someone.
Once the 4-year-old boy had been pulled from the pool, revived and was en route to the hospital, McElreath said the child's mother explained what Angel had done.
"I think Angel, being (15) years old, showed great composure and saw a situation that didn't look right and acted above his age level to actually go investigate and take action to pull the 4-year-old out of the pool, which is remarkable," the fire chief said, also praising the child's mother for her CPR efforts.
"It was a very nice experience for me," Angel said of receiving the award, "because I was very excited that I could finally meet the little kid. He was very interactive."
He said the boy's mother spoke at the meeting when the award was given and said that she would always watch news reports about things like the near-drowning and wonder where the child's parent was.
Angel says sometimes things just happen.
"And sometimes it will have a good outcome like this or sometimes it will have a bad outcome, but it just all happens."
He said he's learned from Edwin's death, and from the life-saving day for the 4-year-old.
"It's just something that happened and I had to get used to it and I was hoping for something good to happen and it just came to me," Angel said.
And while being called a hero was weird at first, it still makes him smile. And it has him looking forward.
Losing Edwin didn't keep him from walking places; it actually prompted him to walk more. He said he pays attention while driving and said he won't even listen to music when on the road.
This has all confirmed his plan to become a trauma doctor, because he sees the good doctors can do.
"I want to have that feeling of saving someone's life," he said. "I really like that feeling."
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