Allen G. Breed, Associated Press
Durham County Sheriff's Deputy David Earp speaks to reporters at headquarters in Durham, N.C. on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015. Earp pulled two young girls out of a pond Sunday night after their father allegedly tried to drown them and their brother.

DURHAM, N.C. — A North Carolina sheriff's deputy says he heard wailing in the darkness and plunged into an apartment complex's pond at night to rescue two young girls who, police say, had been thrown there to drown by their father.

Durham County Sheriff's Deputy David Earp was off duty and says he rushed out with little more than his department T-shirt, badge and flashlight after the apartment manager called him at home around 9 p.m. Sunday to report some kind of trouble.

"I heard something about children, that they might possibly be in trouble," Earp said in an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press. "And after I was informed that there were kids involved, instinct took over just to go out there and rescue them."

Earp, who lives around the corner from the pond, spotted the girls in the dark with his flashlight and saw a 5-year-old floating and crying. Her 3-year-old sister was fully submerged. Earp says he charged into water about 5 feet deep and scooped them up, holding one in each arm.

He took no notice of the girls' father, Alan Tysheen Eugene Lassiter, 29, of Raleigh — the man who was later charged with trying to drown his kids. In the heat of the moment, Earp was focused on just one thing: trying to save the girls' lives.

Earp said they were about 10 feet from the bank, which slopes sharply down to the pond that stretches about the length of a football field. After pulling the girls to land, Earp said he took the 5-year-old to a nearby gazebo and asked the property manager and her son to watch over her.

"I knew she was terrified and I just took her off and didn't want her to be around her sister," Earp said.

The 5-year veteran of the sheriff's department said he and the arriving officers from the Durham police department performed cardio-pulmonary resuscitation on the 3-year-old for about 15 minutes until medical help arrived.

Police said the younger girl was in critical condition on Tuesday and the older girl in good condition.

According to authorities, Lassiter threw the girls into the pond surrounded by apartment buildings.

Lassiter said so himself, during a 911 call Sunday night. Between expletive-laden rage and distraught sobs, he told a dispatcher that officials had tried to take away his children as he dealt with a personal problem. He can be heard on the call telling the complex's property manager, "I just drowned my two daughters in the lake back there."

The company that owns the apartment complex declined requests to interview the property manager. It was not immediately clear how the manager learned of the trouble before alerting Earp, who frequently drives through the complex in his marked patrol car.

Lassiter, who waited passively by the pond as police arrived, was charged with three counts of attempted murder: one count for each of the girls and a third for their 7-year-old brother, who got away and ran for help. Lassiter was jailed, with bond set at $2 million, pending a hearing next month.

Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez said Lassiter did not live at the apartment complex, and apparently went there at random.

Earp, 26, who has no children of his own, says the life-or-death episode continues to reverberate for him.

"It plays over in my mind a lot, as I'm sure with any person," Earp said. "Hopefully these kids will push through."

He added, "When it was all going on, I had tunnel vision. But later on, I felt like if I didn't show up and find out where they were, they possibly could have stayed in the water for several more minutes ... I felt like I did one of the best things I could."

Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio .